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Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs during sleep when you have a pause in breathing or shallow breathing. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur multiple times throughout the night. Unfortunately, this results in interrupted sleep throughout the night.

As a result, people with sleep apnea never get restorative sleep. Therefore, they are tired and sleepy during the day. Also, due to fatigue, they have memory problems and cognitive issues that can impair them at work. Chronic sleep problems also lead to feeling irritable, mood swings, and depression and anxiety.

Scientists estimate that 22 million people in United States have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea affects men more than women. However, sleep apnea rates increase in women after menopause. Not all people with the condition receive treatment. Many cases of sleep apnea go without treatment. The main reason most people don’t get treatment is that do not realize they have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms often occur during sleep. Therefore, some individuals do not notice that they are experiencing symptoms.

sleep apnea under a magnifying lens


The Social Security Administration (SSA) isn’t likely to find sleep apnea to be a disability unless it occurs along with another medical condition. But if you find yourself falling asleep during the day, even though you are following treatment, then the SSA has to take your sleep apnea symptoms into account. Because, severe fatigue and being unable to focus impacts your ability to work.

Sleep apnea often occurs with other medical conditions, like morbid obesity. For example, three percent of   individuals who are of healthy weight have sleep apnea. However, 20 percent of people who are obese also have sleep apnea. Additionally, sleep apnea is often linked to heart disease and metabolic issues like diabetes.

For people who are obese, weight loss is key to avoid sleep apnea. Those who gain weight in the neck, tongue and upper belly are the most vulnerable to sleep apnea. This weight reduces the width of the throat and pushes against the lungs. Therefore, it causes your airway collapse during sleep.


There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):

OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea. It accounts for almost 84% of cases. OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax, causing the airway to narrow or collapse during sleep. This obstruction leads to a decrease in airflow. Therefore, you start snoring, gasping, or choking as the body struggles to breathe.

Within OSA, there are categories that are labeled according to your apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) measurements. Your AHI is how many times your breathing stops and restarts in one hour. To know how severe your problems are, you need to have a sleep test.

  • Severe obstructive sleep apnea means that you have more than 30 episodes per hour
  • Moderate obstructive sleep apnea means that your AHI is between 15 and 30 per hour
  • Mild obstructive sleep apnea means that your AHI is between 5 and 15 per hour

Whether or not you need treatment for sleep apnea depends on how many times your breathing stops and restarts in one hour. If you have severe OSA, then you will have symptoms such as fatigue during the day and other health conditions. Therefore, you will need treatment.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA):

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is less common than OSA. It occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles responsible for your breathing during sleep. Unlike OSA, there is no physical obstruction in the airway. Instead, the respiratory control center in the brain fails to control the breathing efforts, which leads to pauses in breathing.


Several factors can contribute to the development of sleep apnea, including:

  1. Excess weight or obesity: This can lead to fatty tissue around the neck that narrows your airway.
  2. Anatomical factors: Having a thick neck, narrow airway, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
  3. Age: As we age, the risk of sleep apnea increases, especially after age 40.
  4. Family history: If someone in your family has sleep apnea, then you are more likely to have it.
  5. Smoking or alcohol consumption: These two activities can relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing.
  6. Nasal congestion : Nasal blockage due to allergies or sinus problems contributes to sleep apnea.
  7. Medical conditions: Hypertension, congestive heart failure, and diabetes contribute to sleep apnea.


Untreated sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of various health problems. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes type 2, and obesity. Sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk of arrhythmia and heart failure.

The symptoms of sleep apnea can vary and may include:

  1. Loud snoring
  2. Pauses in breathing during sleep, often heard by your partner
  3. Gasping sensations during sleep
  4. Excessive daytime fatigue
  5. Morning headaches
  6. Problems with concentration
  7. Mood swings
  8. Dry mouth or sore throat
  9. Decreased libido
  10. Restless sleep


You need treatment for sleep apnea, because it can have serious consequences for your health. You can take the example of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who may have died from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can contribute to an early death, but the main risk of the condition is from damage done over time.

The treatment options for sleep apnea include:

  1. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy: A CPAP is a mask that goes over your nose and/or mouth during sleep. It delivers a continuous flow of air to keep your airway open.
  2. Oral devices: These devices are similar to mouthguards. They position the jaw or tongue to prevent the airway collapse during sleep.
  3. Change in habits: Lose weight, quit smoking, reduce alcohol use, and practice good sleep hygiene. A change in bad habits can help the symptoms of sleep apnea.
  4. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be done to correct issues that contribute to sleep apnea.
  5. Positional therapy: Sleeping in certain positions, such as on one’s side, can help prevent the collapse of the airway in those with positional sleep apnea.


Qualifying for SSD benefits means you have a severe medical condition that prevents you from working at any job in the national economy. The symptoms of sleep apnea can be so severe that they prevent you from working. The SSA uses a five step review process to determine if they can pay you benefits.

There are two types of Social Security benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. You can file an application online at the Social Security’s website for either one or both. Below, you can find an explanation as to each type of benefit you can file for:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI):  

SSDI benefits are for those who can no longer work due to a severe medical condition like sleep apnea or obesity. The amount of money you receive from SSDI benefits is based on the taxes you paid during your working years. To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned enough “work credits” to qualify.

A work credit is an amount of taxable income. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. The amount of work credits you will need depends on how old you are when you apply. If you haven’t earned enough work credits at the time you apply, then you will only be able to file for SSI benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI):  

SSI is a needs based benefit. It is for only those people with little to no income, such as children and the elderly. Anyone who makes more than a certain amount of money per month cannot receive SSI benefits. The SSA counts the income of those who live with you, such as a spouse, not just your income and assets.

If you have a spouse who earns more than $4000 a month, then that income will prevent you from getting SSI benefits. The same rule applies if you are living with a boyfriend and he is paying your bills. Also, the same rule applies if you are living with your common law wife and she is paying your bills. You cannot get SSI benefits, no matter how severe your medical condition, if you do not meet the income and asset rules for SSI.


If you have sleep apnea, then the SSA will look at all of your symptoms to determine your RFC. The RFC is what is “found” at step four of the Social Security review process. DDS determines your RFC at the lower levels of your claim. Once the case moves to a hearing, it is the ALJ who will determine your RFC. Your RFC can help you win benefits by showing you cannot sustain a job 40 hours a week. Find out more about what questions the judge will ask at your Social Security hearing.

In order for the ALJ’s RFC assessment to comply with SSA’s rules, the RFC must include a narrative discussion. The discussion is written in the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ must describe how the medical evidence supports each conclusion. Also, it must cite specific medical facts and other evidence.

Additionally, the ALJ must discuss your ability to perform work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular basis (i.e., 8 hours a day for 5 days a week). In the written decision, the ALJ must describe the maximum amount of each work related activity that you can perform based on the evidence in the record. For example, if your sleep apnea causes you to fall asleep during the day, then the judge must discuss that symptom as part of your RFC. Also, the ALJ must explain how the evidence was considered.


The ALJ might invite a doctor to testify at your Social Security hearing. The doctor is a medical expert (ME). The ME can testify about your RFC. The ME’s testimony will be based on your medical records. Your RFC is important because if you do not meet or equal a listing, then a job expert will use your RFC to determine if you can work. Learn more about testimony from the job expert.

The medical expert can ask you questions during the hearing. But, the ME’s questions usually only clarify a fact in your medical history. Often, the ALJ will decide whether the ME’s questions are important to the case. If the ALJ doesn’t think so, then they may not let the ME ask you questions.

The ALJ may also ask the question herself or she may allow the ME to question you. The ME, however, cannot conduct any type of physical exam during the hearing. If the ME tries to do so, your attorney should object.

In addition to testifying about your RFC, a medical expert can also use records to confirm your onset date of disability. This is important because your onset date determines how much past due benefit you will receive.

However, it is also possible for the ME to testify you should not get past due benefits. The ME can claim you only recently became unable to work due to your medical condition. That is why hiring an attorney is so important. The attorney can use the medical record to prove the ME’s testimony is wrong. Your attorney will fight for your full back benefit and ongoing benefits.


In order to figure out your RFC, the ME will examine your medical records. The ME will take into account what your doctor states in your medical records. Also, the ME will review any statements from your doctors about your ability to work.

Additionally, the ME will review what SSA’s doctors have to say. These are the doctors that never meet or examine you. Instead, they review the medical record and offer an opinion about your RFC. These doctors are paid by the SSA and work for DDS, the state agency who reviews all cases.

If the SSA sends you to a free doctor exam, then the ME will also take the opinion of these doctors into account. Learn more here about what to expect at the SSA’s doctor exam.

The ME will also consider descriptions about your limits from your family, neighbors and friends. Find out more information about what types of evidence the SSA must consider. For example, your family or friends could write a statement about your sleep apnea and the symptoms they have seen. Find out more here about RFC and how it, along with age, can keep you from working. Also, learn more about SSA’s Medical Vocational Guidelines.


You do not need to try to win SSD and SSI benefits by yourself. We can help file your SSD application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. For example, our attorneys and staff can:

If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Try not to take that long to finish it. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. If you need help to file your application, then we will help you.


We offer a free review of your SSD and SSI benefits. What that means is that you can call us and explain your medical issues. At that point, we will look at the merits of your case for free and let you know if you have a chance to win benefits. We do not charge you for our review of your case.

In the past 30 years, we have won over $100 million in SSDI and SSI benefits for our clients. We are experts at what we do and we will put our knowledge to work for you. Hire us to be your Social Security legal team.

We help clients win benefits in many states, including Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and California. Find out more about your benefits and how to apply in your state:

No matter where you live, we want to be your legal team. Hire the best Social Security legal team with no money down. Also, there will be no attorney fee unless we win your case. Contact us today. We will do our best to help you win SSDI and SSI benefits for your sleep apnea. We know that not being able to work and running through your savings creates stress. Therefore, we will also due our best to win your benefits as quickly we can.


The SSA benefits application and appeal process can be long and complex. Hire Cannon Disability Law to give you legal advice and walk you through the application process. In the past 30 years, we have won millions of dollars in ongoing and past due benefits for our clients.

If you want to win SSDI and SSI benefits, then hire an attorney with the legal experience to win your case. You only pay us an attorney fee when you win your SSD benefits. If you don’t win, then you don’t pay an attorney fee. Hire an attorney to increase your chances of winning SSD benefits. For help, contact us today.

If you want to learn more about our lawyers and staff, then read About Us. For example, you can learn about Andria Summers, who has 21 years of experience working at our law firm. She can also help you with your Medicare advantage plan. She has won thousands of SSDI and SSI cases.

Additionally, Dianna Cannon has been helping her clients win SSD benefits for over thirty years. Ms. Cannon has years of Federal Court experience. She has also taught law school and written a book on SSD benefits. Brett Bunkall also has years of legal experience helping people obtain their SSI and SSD benefits. We are Social Security law experts.

You can trust us to help you win your benefits. Dealing with sleep apnea is difficult and frustrating. Make it easier on yourself by hiring the right SSD law firm. We will do everything we can to make the process of winning SSD benefits easier for you.

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