Close

A third party independently creates these reviews and may earn a commission… Full DisclosureA third party independently creates these reviews and may earn a commission from qualified purchases made. NCOA, however, does not receive a commission for purchases. If you find these resources useful, consider donating to NCOA.

Sleep Apnea Statistics and Facts You Should Know

Oct 11, 2023
Fact Checked
We compiled the most important stats and facts about this common sleep disorder.
Written by:
Medical Reviewer:
Reviewed by: PhD, Senior Director of Healthy Aging Innovations at NCOA

Key Takeaways

  • Approximately 39 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
  • 936 million adults around the world are estimated to have mild to severe OSA.
  • Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea in up to 94% of patients.
  • Untreated sleep apnea can lead to heart, kidney, and metabolic health complications.
  • It’s estimated that 33 million U.S. adults use a CPAP machine, including President Joe Biden.
  • Sleep apnea treatment can improve quality of life and help regulate blood pressure.

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea are more prevalent in U.S. adults than you might think. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that three in four U.S. adults have sleep disorder symptoms. [1] Liu Y, et al. Sleep Disorder Symptoms Among Adults in 8 States and the District of Columbia, 2017. Preventing Chronic Disease. Dec. 30, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/21_0305.htm Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a very common condition where the upper airway becomes blocked while sleeping. Different factors determine your likelihood of developing sleep apnea. Here are a few key things you should know about OSA, its effects on overall health, and treatments.

How common is sleep apnea?

Roughly 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. [2] American Medical Association (AMA). What doctors wish patients knew about sleep apnea. April 1, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-sleep-apnea But in reality, this sleep disorder is thought to affect 30 million people in the U.S. Older adults are much more likely to have sleep apnea than younger people. One study found that 56% of people age 65 and older have a high risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. [3] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Study Finds High Rate of Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea in Older Adults. May 11, 2018. Found on the internet at https://foundation.aasm.org/aasm-foundation-study-published-jags/

Not all people with sleep apnea have an official diagnosis. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) estimates that as many as 80% of people with OSA are undiagnosed. [4] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Hidden Health Crisis Costing America Billions. 2016. Found on the internet at https://aasm.org/resources/pdf/sleep-apnea-economic-crisis.pdf

Around the world, OSA is a very common condition. A 2019 study funded by ResMed—a company that manufactures machines for sleep apnea treatment—found that as many as 936 million adults around the globe have mild to severe OSA. [5] Benjafield AV, et al. Estimation of the Global Prevalence and Burden of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: A Literature-Based Analysis. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. July 9, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(19)30198-5/fulltext

Sleep apnea facts

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea, when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep, interfering with breathing.
  2. Central sleep apnea, when the muscles and nerves aren’t activated enough for breathing while asleep, causing pauses in airflow. [6] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea? March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea

Biological factors like age, gender, and weight influence the development of OSA. The risk increases between ages 30 to 70, and men are two to four times more likely than women to have OSA. Higher weight is also linked to a higher prevalence of OSA.

Other factors that put you at higher risk include hypothyroidism, a family history of sleep apnea, menopause, heart or kidney failure, drinking alcohol, smoking, and the anatomy of the face and neck, like having large tonsils. [6] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea? March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea

How sleep apnea is diagnosed

To be diagnosed with OSA, you’ll need to undergo a sleep study, also known as polysomnography (PSG). [7] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Studies. March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-studies They can be done in a sleep clinic or at home. During the overnight study, you wear sensors that monitor your heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen levels, and brain waves while sleeping.

Based on your symptoms and a number called the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) found during the sleep study, you can be diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe OSA. The AHI measures the number of times your breathing was stopped or hindered as you slept.

Table 1 Comparing mild, moderate, and severe OSA

Severity

AHI (events per hour of sleep)

Description

Mild

5–14

May be asymptomatic or have mild daytime sleepiness

Moderate

15–30

Occasional daytime sleepiness

Severe

> 30

Often has daytime sleepiness that interferes with normal daily activities

Source: [8] Kline LR. Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults. UpToDate. June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-presentation-and-diagnosis-of-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-adults

Sleep apnea prevalence over time

The number of people diagnosed with sleep apnea has increased in recent years. In a 1993 study, moderate to severe OSA was prevalent in 11% of men and 4% of women. [9] Young T, et al. The Occurrence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing Among Middle-Aged Adults. New England Journal of Medicine. April 29, 1993. Found on the internet at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm199304293281704 According to a 2013 follow-up study, the number increased to 14% of men and 5% of women. [10] Peppard PE, et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. April 14, 2013. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/9/1006/145450 In 20 years, the prevalence of OSA in U.S. adults ages 30 to 70 increased by 27% in men and 25% in women.

Experts suggest two major factors may be contributing to the increasing numbers: expanding access to testing and diagnosis and the increasing average weight of U.S. adults. [8] Kline LR. Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults. UpToDate. June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-presentation-and-diagnosis-of-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-adults

Table 2 Prevalence of OSA in U.S. adults 30–70 years old over time

Gender

1993

2013

Difference

Men

9%

13%

27% increase

Women

4%

5%

25% increase

Sleep apnea signs and symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of OSA include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Frequent waking [9] Young T, et al. The Occurrence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing Among Middle-Aged Adults. New England Journal of Medicine. April 29, 1993. Found on the internet at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm199304293281704
Info icon

If you or your partner frequently snores, gasps during sleep, or experiences daytime sleepiness, consider speaking to a health care provider about sleep apnea.

Snoring and sleep apnea

Almost one in two males (44%) and over one in four females (28%) snore regularly. But according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the number may be much higher—about 70% of people who share a bed report that their partner snores. [11] Rowley JA. Snoring in Adults. UpToDate. Jan. 6, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/snoring-in-adults [12] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Is It More Than a Snore? Recognizing Sleep Apnea Warning Signs. June 8, 2021. Found on the internet at https://aasm.org/is-it-more-than-a-snore-recognizing-sleep-apnea-warning-signs/

While snoring by itself doesn’t necessarily mean a person has OSA, loud snoring is one of the most common symptoms. Up to 94% of people with OSA report snoring. [13] Alshaer H, et al. Objective Relationship between Sleep Apnea and Frequency of Snoring Assessed by Machine Learning. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. March 15, 2019. Found on the internet at https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.7676

Sleep apnea and age statistics

Older adults age 50 to 70 are more likely to have a sleep apnea diagnosis than other age groups. The increase in OSA prevalence may be due to physical changes that affect the throat and neck area with age. For example, some older adults may have increased fat deposits around the throat that are more likely to restrict airflow during sleep. [14] Garvey JF, et al. Epidemiological Aspects of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Journal of Thoracic Disease. May 29, 2015. Found on the internet at https://jtd.amegroups.org/article/view/4394/4812

Table 3 Prevalence of OSA in middle-aged and older U.S. adults

Gender

30–49 years old

50–70 years old

Men

12%

18%

Women

3%

8%

Source: [10] Peppard PE, et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. April 14, 2013. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/9/1006/145450

Children and sleep apnea

Although most OSA studies focus on adults 30 and older, sleep apnea can also affect children and young adults. OSA occurs in 1% to 5% of children, most commonly between two and six years old. [15] Paruthi S. Evaluation of Suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children. UpToDate. June 21, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-suspected-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-children

Children can develop sleep apnea for several reasons. Children with higher weights, especially adolescents, have higher rates of OSA than their peers with lower weights. Medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or Prader-Willi syndrome can also lead to sleep apnea in children. [15] Paruthi S. Evaluation of Suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children. UpToDate. June 21, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-suspected-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-children

Physical blockages like enlarged tonsils or adenoids Tissue between the nose and throat that have functions in the immune system. can cause sleep apnea as well. The enlargement, whether due to genetics, an infection, or inflammation, can interfere with the airway during sleep.

Sleep apnea and gender statistics

Statistics show that U.S. men have higher rates of sleep apnea compared to women. Men ages 30 to 49 have a four times higher frequency of sleep apnea than women. But between the ages of 50 to 70 years old, the difference between the two groups narrows, and men are only two times as likely as women to experience OSA. [10] Peppard PE, et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. April 14, 2013. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/9/1006/145450

Differences in hormones, anatomy, and metabolism are possible reasons why men have higher rates of sleep apnea. [16] Martins FO, Conde SV. Gender Differences in the Context of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Metabolic Diseases. Frontiers in Physiology. Dec. 14, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2021.792633/full

Table 4 Comparing rates of sleep apnea in U.S. men and women

Ages

Men

Women

Difference

50–70 years old

12%

3%

Men have 4x higher rates of sleep apnea compared to women in this age group.

50–70 years old

18%

8%

Men have about 2x higher rates of sleep apnea compared to women in this age group.

30–70 years old

14%

5%

Men have about 3x higher rates of sleep apnea compared to women in this age group.

Menopause and sleep apnea

The frequency of sleep apnea in women increases after menopause. [17] Jehan S, et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Women’s Perspective. Journal of Sleep Medical Disorders. 2016. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5323064/ Changes in hormone levels can impact weight and upper airway anatomy, which in turn can impact the likelihood of developing OSA. People who are pregnant or who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may also have higher rates of sleep apnea due to their hormone levels. [6] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea? March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea

Sleep apnea and health conditions

Sleep apnea and your overall health have a two-way relationship. [18] Gleeson M, McNicholas WT. Bidirectional Relationships of Comorbidity With Obstructive Sleep Apnea. European Respiratory Review. May 4, 2022. Found on the internet at https://err.ersjournals.com/content/31/164/210256.long Sleep apnea can impact other aspects of your health, and your health can influence your developing or worsening OSA.

Here are some of the health conditions that increase the risk of OSA:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Large tonsils
  • Higher weight
  • PCOS [8] Kline LR. Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults. UpToDate. June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-presentation-and-diagnosis-of-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-adults

Sleep apnea can also increase the risk of developing certain health conditions, like:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Sexual dysfunction

Untreated OSA can affect your safety and ability to complete everyday activities. For example, daytime sleepiness can make driving dangerous. Poor sleep quality can also lead to difficulty with memory recall and focus. In addition, studies have found that people with severe OSA have an increased risk of death due to any reason (called all-cause mortality) compared to people without any sleep apnea symptoms. [19] Young T, et al. Sleep Disordered Breathing and Mortality: Eighteen-Year Follow-Up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort. Sleep. Aug. 1, 2008. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2542952/

Info icon

Correlation versus causation

How exactly sleep apnea affects other aspects of health is still being studied. Some health conditions have a clear link to sleep apnea. For example, higher weight can increase the likelihood of airway blockage during sleep, leading to OSA.

But other conditions, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are more of a mystery. Depression and PTSD show up at higher rates in people with OSA compared to people without, though the research has yet to uncover if or how one condition causes the other.

For more on how OSA affects mental health, read our article about how meditation can benefit sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea prevention

Eating a heart-healthy diet, managing your weight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake are all things that can help you prevent OSA.

Because factors beyond your control—like hormones or other health conditions—may affect your risk of developing sleep apnea, getting a yearly wellness visit can help you manage your overall health. You can learn more about your medical benefits using NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp.

CPAP usage statistics

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. According to the AASM, 85% of people with OSA—about 33 million U.S. adults—receive CPAP treatment, including President Biden. [4] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Hidden Health Crisis Costing America Billions. 2016. Found on the internet at https://aasm.org/resources/pdf/sleep-apnea-economic-crisis.pdf

CPAP machines use a mask to deliver pressurized air to keep your airways open during sleep.

A study funded by Philips Respironics, a CPAP manufacturer, found the following about people who receive CPAP therapy: [20] Patel SR, et al. Variability in CPAP Adherence: A National Perspective. Sleep. April 2019. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/42/Supplement_1/A206/5451724

  • About 7 in 10 (between 65.7% to 72.5%) people with OSA adhere to CPAP therapy. [21] Morrone E, et al. Something is Changing in Adherence to CPAP Therapy: Real World Data After 1 Year of Treatment in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. European Respiratory Journal. March 2020. Found on the internet at https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/55/3/1901419
  • People 61 to 70 years old were more likely to adhere to CPAP therapy compared to younger adults.
  • U.S. adults in the Upper Midwest and Mountain West were more likely to adhere to CPAP therapy than U.S. adults in the Northeast and Southwest.

CPAP therapy is effective in the following ways: [22] Patil SP, et al. Treatment of Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea With Positive Airway Pressure: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and GRADE Assessment. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Feb. 15, 2019. Found on the internet at https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.7638

  • Reduces OSA severity (by reducing AHI)
  • Reduces daytime sleepiness
  • Improves sleep-related quality of life
  • Reduces blood pressure for people with and without blood pressure medications

CPAP machines may cost $400 to $2,700 and can be covered by Medicare or your private insurance. Read more about CPAP machines, including the different types, features, and costs, in our review of the best CPAP machines.

Bottom line

Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects millions of U.S. adults. It’s found more often in men, older adults, people with higher weight, and people with certain chronic conditions. Common symptoms include snoring, frequent waking during the night, and daytime sleepiness.

CPAP therapy is an effective treatment option for OSA that can improve sleep quality and help control blood pressure. Most people on CPAP therapy continue with it, despite the possible discomfort of sleeping with a mask on. If you experience frequent sleep apnea symptoms, discuss treatment options with your health care provider.

Have questions about this review? Email us at reviewsteam@ncoa.org.

Sources

  1. Liu Y, et al. Sleep Disorder Symptoms Among Adults in 8 States and the District of Columbia, 2017. Preventing Chronic Disease. Dec. 30, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/21_0305.htm
  2. American Medical Association (AMA). What doctors wish patients knew about sleep apnea. April 1, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-sleep-apnea
  3. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Study Finds High Rate of Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea in Older Adults. May 11, 2018. Found on the internet at https://foundation.aasm.org/aasm-foundation-study-published-jags/
  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Hidden Health Crisis Costing America Billions. 2016. Found on the internet at https://aasm.org/resources/pdf/sleep-apnea-economic-crisis.pdf
  5. Benjafield AV, et al. Estimation of the Global Prevalence and Burden of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: A Literature-Based Analysis. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. July 9, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(19)30198-5/fulltext
  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea? March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea
  7. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Studies. March 24, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-studies
  8. Kline LR. Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults. UpToDate. June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-presentation-and-diagnosis-of-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-adults
  9. Young T, et al. The Occurrence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing Among Middle-Aged Adults. New England Journal of Medicine. April 29, 1993. Found on the internet at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm199304293281704
  10. Peppard PE, et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. April 14, 2013. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/9/1006/145450
  11. Rowley JA. Snoring in Adults. UpToDate. Jan. 6, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/snoring-in-adults
  12. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Is It More Than a Snore? Recognizing Sleep Apnea Warning Signs. June 8, 2021. Found on the internet at https://aasm.org/is-it-more-than-a-snore-recognizing-sleep-apnea-warning-signs/
  13. Alshaer H, et al. Objective Relationship between Sleep Apnea and Frequency of Snoring Assessed by Machine Learning. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. March 15, 2019. Found on the internet at https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.7676
  14. Garvey JF, et al. Epidemiological Aspects of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Journal of Thoracic Disease. May 29, 2015. Found on the internet at https://jtd.amegroups.org/article/view/4394/4812
  15. Paruthi S. Evaluation of Suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children. UpToDate. June 21, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-suspected-obstructive-sleep-apnea-in-children
  16. Martins FO, Conde SV. Gender Differences in the Context of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Metabolic Diseases. Frontiers in Physiology. Dec. 14, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2021.792633/full
  17. Jehan S, et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Women’s Perspective. Journal of Sleep Medical Disorders. 2016. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5323064/
  18. Gleeson M, McNicholas WT. Bidirectional Relationships of Comorbidity With Obstructive Sleep Apnea. European Respiratory Review. May 4, 2022. Found on the internet at https://err.ersjournals.com/content/31/164/210256.long
  19. Young T, et al. Sleep Disordered Breathing and Mortality: Eighteen-Year Follow-Up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort. Sleep. Aug. 1, 2008. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2542952/
  20. Patel SR, et al. Variability in CPAP Adherence: A National Perspective. Sleep. April 2019. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/42/Supplement_1/A206/5451724
  21. Morrone E, et al. Something is Changing in Adherence to CPAP Therapy: Real World Data After 1 Year of Treatment in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. European Respiratory Journal. March 2020. Found on the internet at https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/55/3/1901419
  22. Patil SP, et al. Treatment of Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea With Positive Airway Pressure: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and GRADE Assessment. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Feb. 15, 2019. Found on the internet at https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.7638
Was this helpful?
Thank you for your feedback!

Find the best [category]