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What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?

I didn’t sleep well and I’m a little tired… big deal right?

Getting a bad night’s sleep in the short term may not seem like a big deal, but in the long term chronic sleep deprivation can cause serious help effects, many of which can kill you!

In this chapter we’ll outline the common symptoms of sleep apnea and we’ll describe both the short-term and long-term effects of poor sleep.

What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?

Most cases of sleep apnea can be traced back to a  reduced airway space. In other words, there’s not enough room for air to travel down to your lungs, particularly while you’re sleeping.  

There are many factors that can cause a reduction in your airway:

  • Large Tonsils
  • Allergies
  • Nasal Congestion
  • A Large Tongue
  • A Narrow Mouth
  • A Retruded Chin
  • Excess Weight Around the Neck

We’ll discuss a few of these causes below and how they specifically impact your airway, leading to sleep apnea.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Children

Baby Bottles, Pacifiers, and other Baby Products

Any child or infant that has used a bottle, sucked their thumb, or relied on a pacifier or a Sippy cup for an extended amount of time has had a sucking motion that can work against the growth of the jaws.

Think about it –  if you were to sit here, purse your lips, and suck in, what do you feel that your muscles doing? They are pushing in on the jaws and face,  squeezing and making them, and over time, restricting growth. So imagine what happens to the jaws after months and years of sucking on a pacifier, cup, or other device.

A child with sleep problems will often become an adult with sleep apnea.

Being Tongue-Tied

Being tongue-tied isn’t just an expression. Having a tongue tie literally means your tongue can’t extend forward or go to the roof of your mouth the way it needs to, in order to fully develop the airway.

Large Tonsils

Large tonsils can restrict the airway, especially in younger children.


When children, adults, or any individual are not breathing properly through their nose, they are not stimulating the immune system. This creates nitric oxide in your bloodstream, which causes us to be more prone to allergies and sinus infections, ultimately making it harder to breathe through our nose.

Causes of Sleep Apnea in Teens and Adults

Having a Narrow or Small Mouth

Many of us had orthodontic treatment at a young age.

For some individuals, teeth were removed, or large spaces were closed.  This can cause the jaws to stop growing leading to a very small mouth or a small box to hold in the tongue and all the soft tissue.

When we go to sleep, the tongue has nowhere to go but back into the throat.

High Body Weight and Excessive Weight Around the Neck

High body mass index is the extra body weight that can put extra pressure and push everything into the space where the lungs should be.  It’s going to make it harder to breathe. One sign in adults is the circumference of the neck. If you have a large round neck that’s a sign that there’s some blockage of the airway.

As outlined above, there are many factors that may impact our ability to breathe while sleeping. The next important step to cover is how we can help treat individuals who are impacted by sleep apnea or sleep disorder breathing.  

Keep reading in Chapter 3 to learn more about sleep apnea treatments.


More Than Just a Dental Exam, Your Total Care Dental Physical Includes

  • A Cone Beam CT Scan to identify problems related to old root canals, extraction sites, or failed tooth fillings.
  • An adrenal test, pH test, Heart Rate Variability test, blood pressure, microscope bacterial analysis, and a 40-point intraoral exam. (We make sure there is no stone uncovered when it comes to your health)
  • Screenings for problems related to infection, toxic metals, airway problems, or sleep issues.


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