Do you suspect you or someone you know has sleep apnea?
The best way to determine if you have sleep apnea is to consult with a physician, but we can help you understand the most common signs and symptoms. First, we need a basic understanding of what sleep apnea is. Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea have recurring episodes of partial or complete cessation (or stopping) of breath during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night or even an hour. This means the brain and the rest of the body may not receive enough oxygen, which can lead to other health problems.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form, where the upper airway gets completely or partially blocked while sleeping. Apnea is the cessation of breathing.
Central Sleep Apnea is less common and a bit more complicated. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain neglects to signal your muscles to breathe while you’re sleeping, causing the cessation of breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Let’s start with the most common symptom, snoring. Loud and frequent snoring is often a good indicator of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Snoring is the sound that comes from the nose or mouth when breathing is partially obstructed during sleep. Sometimes those obstructions can be caused by nasal congestion, but when snoring is frequent the obstruction is likely caused by the relaxation of the soft palate or tongue. It’s basic gravity; if you’re laying back and your body starts to relax as you fall asleep the tongue can drop back and block the airway. The uvula and tonsils can also cause obstructions, but that usually only occurs in children. Another cause could be a misalignment of the jaw. Various causes will call for different forms of treatment.
Some other signs of sleep apnea include Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS), also known has hypersomnia or hypersomnolence, or a lack of energy and continuous feeling of fatigue. A clear-cut sign or symptom is if you have ever woken yourself up choking or gasping for air. Many people report hearing their bed partner do this or witnessing their bed partner stop breathing. This is the obstruction you’re witnessing, or as we like to call them, witnessed apneas. We will go into apneas in more detail later, but in short it means a temporary cessation of breath.
Due to the snoring and often open mouth, many people with sleep apnea will experience dry mouth or a sore throat during the night or in the morning. Morning headaches are sometimes experienced due to the drop in oxygen levels during sleep. All the obstructions during sleep disrupt the sleep cycle, whether you wake up or not, and lead to symptoms of a poor night(s) sleep. This can lead to symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, impaired memory or forgetfulness, mood changes and irritability, and sleepiness while driving. When you experience sleepiness while driving you are not only putting yourself at risk, but you are putting everyone around you at risk as well. Many transportation companies will require their drivers be tested for sleep apnea and if diagnosed the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires they be treated.
An interesting symptom of sleep apnea that some people experience is nocturia. Nocturia is defined as frequent urination at night. What’s interesting about it is how the two are related. As we now know, sleep apnea causes obstructions in breathing which result in forceful breaths to open the blocked airway. These vigorous breaths lead to negative pressure in the chest cavity, meaning it’s creating a sort-of vacuum in your chest cavity. This pressure, in turn leads to an increase in a hormone, called atrial natriuretic peptide, that causes the need to urinate. This obviously causes more disturbances in sleep as you wake to use the bathroom multiple times a night.
A few other symptoms people with sleep apnea can experience is restlessness, grogginess upon awakening, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and sleep deprivation. This can also cause a decrease in hormone production and lead to a decreased sex drive or sexual dysfunction.
Everyone is unique and can experience different symptoms, so it is best to discuss your concerns with your provider. Having any of these symptoms does not always mean you have sleep apnea and those with sleep apnea do not always exhibit all these signs or symptoms. If your doctor suspects that you may have sleep apnea it is important to be tested and to follow through with appropriate treatment. Stay tuned for our next posting where we dive into the various types of treatments for sleep apnea!
-Laura Pratt and Page Maryyanek
*This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.