During waking hours the airway is held open by a normal waking muscle tone of the tongue muscle. The tongue attaches at the front on the inside of the lower jaw (mandible). At the rear, the tongue muscle attaches to the structures which make up the front and sides of the airway.
When we fall asleep the waking muscle tone in the tongue is allowed to relax some. In the "normal", "healthy" non-snoring, non-sleep-apnea person the tongue relaxes somewhat but the airway remains adequately open to allow for unobstructed breathing.
When the tongue muscle relaxes a bit too much the airway becomes excessively small and the air must pass through the airway faster to allow adequate air into the lungs. This fast moving air through a very restricted opening often causes the tissue to vibrate - - - hence snoring. Over 80% of snoring occurs at this level. Only 18-20% of snoring occurs at the level of the nose.
When, in the snoring patient, the tongue muscle relaxes slightly more and the patient tries hard to breathe in, the walls of the airway touch and the airway collapses and is completely obstructed. The harder the sufferer tries to breath in, the more firmly the airway collapses. [Imagine you're trying to drink a rootbeer float through a flimsy straw and the end of the straw gets stuck in the ice cream. When you try to suck through the straw the straw collapses. The harder you suck on the straw, the more the straw collapses.]
In the obstructive sleep apnic the only way to "uncollapse" the collapsed airway is for the sufferer to awaken slightly (arouse) from sleep and consciously breathe. Though the apnic patient may not remember awakening from sleep, this "fall asleep - muscle relax - obstructed airway - arousal" cycle may occur hundreds of times each night. The sufferer often awakens with a gasp or snort, rapid breathing, rapid, heavy heart rate, and a feeling of panic.
During the day the person suffers from excessive day time sleepiness,
feeling un-refreshed and unrested from sleep
CLICK HERE TO WATCH A VIDEO WITH DR. MAUTNER EXPLAINING SLEEP APNEA