During evolution, the human upper airway narrowed to accommodate the development of speech.  This change adversely affects many people who experience either total or partial obstruction of the upper airway during sleep.  Although neck muscles work to hold the airway open while awake, they may relax during sleep and allow partial or complete airway closure to occur.  The result is unhealthy sleep.

Obstructive Sleep Effect represents a spectrum of changes in the upper airway leading to sleep which produces physiologic stress.  Those with OSE experience sleep that is not restful, and complain of being excessively tired during the day.  In the most severe form, a medical disorder termed obstructive sleep apnea, the airway is periodically occluded and respiration ceases.  This leads to periods of low blood oxygen and can be associated with serious medical consequences.

Even when the airway is not completely occluded, people with OSE can experience life-alternating changes associated with the stress of breathing through a partially occluded airway.  Akin to breathing through a straw for hours a night, Partial OSE (POSE) may lead to periods of rapid heart rate and other signs of physiologic stress.  Snoring may be another indication of POSE.  Although not currently viewed as a medical disorder per se, POSE may still be associated with persistent and troubling complaints like snoring and daytime sleepiness.