Do you often wake up feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep? Do you experience constant snoring or gasping for air while sleeping? These may be signs of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when your breathing is interrupted during sleep, causing your body to wake up briefly throughout the night. Although it may seem like a minor inconvenience, sleep apnea can have serious consequences if left untreated.
Early diagnosis and treatment of even mild sleep apnea can greatly improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of developing serious health problems. In this article, we will discuss four common symptoms of sleep apnea that can help you identify if you may have this health condition.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing during sleep or shallow breaths during sleep. These pauses can last for a few seconds to minutes and can occur many times throughout the night. As a result, the person may wake up briefly to gasp for air, which can disrupt their sleep and cause daytime drowsiness and fatigue.
There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). In OSA—which is the most common type—the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, causing the person to snore loudly as they struggle to breathe. In CSA, the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the muscles that control breathing. A condition known as Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of OSA and CSA.
During an apnea event, the level of oxygen in the body drops, which can lead to a range of physiological changes, including:
- Increased heart rate: When blood oxygen levels drop, the heart has to work harder to circulate blood through the body.
- Increased blood pressure: The body may release stress hormones in response to the drop in oxygen levels, which can cause an increase in blood pressure.
- Sleep fragmentation: Each time an apnea event occurs, it disrupts sleep, causing the person to briefly awaken from sleep multiple times throughout the night.
- Increased inflammation: Sleep apnea has been linked to an increase in inflammation in the body, which can contribute to a range of health problems.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Risk factors for sleep apnea include obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, nasal congestion, family history, and certain medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
People with sleep apnea often experience restless sleep, but it can be difficult to notice some of the symptoms because the person experiencing them may not be aware of them. For example, pauses in breathing or gasping for air may not wake the person up fully, so they may not even remember experiencing them. Additionally, loud snoring may not be noticed by the person themselves, but it may be disruptive to their bed partner or family members.
Because of these reasons, it’s important to pay attention to other signs that may indicate sleep apnea, such as morning headaches, mood changes, and high blood pressure. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider who can help determine if sleep apnea is the underlying cause. A sleep study may also be recommended to diagnose sleep apnea and determine the severity of the condition.
#1. Loud and Chronic Snoring
Chronic snoring is one of the most obvious signs of sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea. Because OSA occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep, the person will snore loudly as they struggle to breathe.
Snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea if:
- you snore every night, rather than only on certain occasions
- you often wake up with a dry mouth, sore throat, or a headache
- you are excessively sleepy during the daytime
#2. Gasping or Choking During Sleep
Gasping and choking during sleep are often signs of sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If the airway becomes completely blocked, it can lead to gasping or choking as the person wakes up suddenly in order to catch their breath.
It’s important to note that other factors, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), panic disorder, or heart disease, can also cause these symptoms.
Gasping or choking during sleep may be a sign of sleep apnea if:
- your bed partner comments that you also snore frequently
- the gasping or choking is consistent and not a one-time event
- you have ruled out other conditions such that may be causing the symptoms
#3. Excessive Daytime Fatigue
Excessive daytime fatigue is a common sign of sleep apnea. When a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during the night, it can disrupt their sleep and prevent them from getting the deep, restful sleep they need. As a result, they may feel excessively sleepy during the day, even after a full night’s sleep.
Excessive fatigue may be a sign of sleep apnea if:
- your bedtime routine is consistent and you are getting a full night’s sleep
- you have a sleep tracker that shows interruptions in REM sleep
- you also have other signs of sleep apnea, such as snoring or gasping for air
#4. Morning Headaches
When a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night, it can cause a lack of oxygen in the body, which can result in headaches upon waking in the morning.
Morning headaches may be a sign of sleep apnea if:
- they are combined with any of the above symptoms
- you have ruled out other causes
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Severe sleep apnea can lead to a range of health issues if left untreated, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and even congestive heart failure. People with sleep apnea are also at higher risk for depression and anxiety.
When to See a Sleep Specialist
It’s important to seek treatment for sleep apnea to reduce the risk of these health problems and improve overall health and quality of life. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or quitting smoking, continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP), or oral appliance therapy that help keep the airway open during sleep. In some cases, surgery or other medical treatments may be recommended.
At Healthy Sleep Midwest, we can offer our patients an effective at-home sleep test, which is a great alternative to a study in a sleep lab to diagnose sleep apnea. Contact us today to get started with your sleep apnea testing and get your life back on track!