First, what is Apnea? Simply stated, it is when we stop breathing. The vast majority of people suffering Apnea are experiencing an anatomical or external factor causing a temporary blockage or obstruction of their airway. This obstruction can be your throat collapsing, your tongue blocking the airway, or even a sinus blockage. This is often called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and may last only a couple of seconds, but many people will be surprised to find that they may stop breathing for nearly a minute or more! Unconsciously your body is fighting to breath, as though you're suffocating. Eventually, the natural process in our bodies will force us to awaken when our O2 drops and CO2 levels become extreme. You may wake gasping for breath. Surprisingly many people are completely unaware they stop breathing or suffer from OSA.
In the most severe form of Apnea a person may have this "rude awakening" over 50 times per hour. This constant re-awakening is very stressful on the heart and other organs, especially the brain as it is deprived of oxygen. Ultimately OSA impacts the restful and much needed sleep leaving you feeling tired throughout the day. In fact, it has been proven that persons with severe Apnea experience almost no REM sleep.
There are a multitude of reasons that a person will have their airway restricted during sleep when they have no apparent problems when awake. The most common is that the tongue and soft pallet (roof of your mouth) become relaxed and shift back to make a small passage even smaller.
There are also a variety of additional factors that can make snoring more likely to lead to sleep apnea. These conditions typically become more prevalent as we age, and are related to obesity and lack of muscle tone in the throat and mouth. In the link below you can see a video that clearly describes the OSA problem and possible solutions.