Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition consisting of repetitive partial or complete pharyngeal collapse while sleeping. This results in fragmented sleep, causing drowsiness during the day.

Illustrator Alexandra Webber says she sought to “visualize the movement of air in respiration in order to show this collapse.” Above the sleeping patient Webber referenced the data collected during a sleep test, including oxygen desaturation, sleep disruptions, brain waves, heart rate, and breathing.

When composing an image, Webber says she likes to start with a base drawing of the figure and then roughly sketch in the relevant anatomy. Once that anatomy is in place, she says, “you have a starting place to work out how to show the disruption—in this case, relaxing the tongue and soft palette until they touch the back of the throat. I draw a red circle around my area of focus to make sure it stays prominent over the hours it takes to render the final illustration.”

Thank you to 🇺🇸 Alexandra Webber is an award winning medical illustrator and owner of DNA Illustrations based in Asheville, NC. This illustration was created for a lead magazine article on obstructive sleep apnea.

sleep apnea
Cross section of the oropharynx of a sleeping woman exhibiting obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA involves repetitive partial or complete pharyngeal collapse while sleeping resulting in either apnea or hypopnea. In the section we can see the soft palette and the posterior portion of the tongue occluding the airway (indicated with blue).

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