About sleep apnea

Top 5 sleep apnea myths: Busted!

Without further ado, here are the top five sleep apnea myths that just need to be: Busted.

1. Sleep apnea is caused primarily by obesity.

Let’s bust this myth once and for all. The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute provides a concise “bust” to this common misconception: “Being overweight or obese raises the risk of developing sleep apnea, due to the increased amount of fatty tissue in the throat. Weight is a factor in developing sleep apnea, as the fatty tissue in the back of the throat can collapse and block the airway as the muscles relax during sleep. However, even a well-conditioned athlete who has a large, muscular neck may have a similar problem. Even a thin person can have sleep apnea if he or she has a narrowed airway or structural abnormalities of the jaw, tonsils or adenoids, septum, tongue and soft palate.”

So, there you have it. Although being overweight is a strong risk for developing sleep apnea, there are many, many other causes, such as diabetes and other comorbidities.

2. Snoring means you have sleep apnea.

Snoring and sleep apnea are linked at an alarming rate but it’s not a diagnosis, just a clue – a what-if. In fact, one in three men and approximately one in five women who are habitual snorers, suffer from some degree of obstructive sleep apnea1, which negates the all-or-nothing myth that all snorers have sleep apnea.

It has also been linked to a number of other health conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart failure and hypertension2. So, regardless of what is specifically causing snoring for you, if you snore — or if you suspect you snore — consider it a sign that something may not be right. Take our short sleep apnea quiz or find a sleep testing facility near you.

3. The more you sleep – the better!

Several studies show that oversleeping, or sleeping too much, can be detrimental to your health. A 2014 Nurses’ Health Study via Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. reported worse performance on memory and thinking skill tests among women who slept five hours or fewer per night or nine hours or more, compared with those getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

“The researchers estimated that undersleepers and oversleepers were mentally two years older than the women who got seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night,” study leader Elizabeth Devore noted in her abstract via an interview with Harvard Health Publications.

Couple these findings with what we already know about obstructive sleep apnea, and this research could shed light on a very important sleep myth: Oversleeping just might be as detrimental as undersleeping. So, this myth is busted: more sleep is not always the best solution to poor sleep.

4. Children rarely experience sleep apnea.

Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, Conn., specializing in the care of children with breathing and sleep problems, notes on his website, “One third (33 percent) of obese children will suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), compared with 2 to 4 percent of non-obese children. Fifty percent of obese, snoring children will have OSA. It is not clear why this is. It may be because the upper airway is smaller and thus easier to collapse. Or, as we have shown in our research, fat in the belly is more likely to be associated with OSA, perhaps by pushing up on the lungs and making them smaller.”

No matter which way you slice it, children do get sleep apnea.

Canapari notes that long ago, more often than not, it was children with large tonsils that were diagnosed with OSA and treated with the removal of their tonsils and adenoids. Nowadays, however, the tides have shifted with the most recent data from 20103 showing, “16.9 percent of children ages 2-19 years of age were obese; 9.5 percent of infants and toddlers were obese.” Meaning no longer are we seeing that thin child with the big tonsils as the main type of child-aged OSA sufferer, instead we’re seeing more adult-like OSA symptoms in obese children.

5. Wearing a CPAP mask makes me look unattractive...

Funny enough, although actually wearing a CPAP mask may take patients some getting used to, from a physical perspective, a 2013 study from the University of Michigan4 selected 20 adults with obstructive sleep apnea with the intention of debunking this myth to help encourage those affected with OSA to use CPAP therapy.

In an interesting twist, researchers took photos of the study participants before and after undergoing continuous airway pressure therapy, then the researchers asked 22 people, including medical professionals, to observe and compare the photos. Those who reviewed the photos noted, “…that the images of the patients after the therapy, looked more alert (68 percent), more attractive (67 percent) and youthful (64 percent) than before the treatment. Researchers found that the therapy helped decrease forehead surface volume, redness under eyes and on the cheeks.” So, cheers to looking good after using CPAP!



  1. Young T et al. NE J Med. 1993; 328(17):1230–5.
  2. Logan AG et al. J Hypertens 2001.
  3. Ogden, C.; Carroll, M.; Curtin, L.; et al. JAMA. 2010; 303(3):242-249.
  4. Chervin, R. J Clin Sleep Med 2013;9(9):845-852.

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