Sleep apnea affects the way you breathe when you’re sleeping. When untreated, breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. These breaks in breathing typically last between 10 to 20 seconds and can occur up to hundreds of times a night, causing major interruptions to your natural sleep rhythm. As a consequence, you spend more time tossing and turning in light sleep and less time in the deep, restorative sleep your body needs.
The chronic sleep deprivation caused by apnea often results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea has also been linked with serious health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain.
You might have sleep apnea if…
- You’re Overweight – Up to 67 percent of people diagnosed are overweight (defined as a body mass index over 25). As your weight increases, the fat pads that surround your airway also get larger, narrowing the opening and making it more difficult to breathe.
- You Wake Up with a Sore Throat – A common, but often misdiagnosed, symptom is dry mouth and sore throat. It’s common for pauses in breathing to be followed by gasping, choking or snorting. When the oxygen in your blood falls, it signals your brain to wake up and draw a breath. Frantically trying to get the oxygen you need can lead to gasping for air, which after repeated occurrences throughout the night, can cause dry mouth and sore throat.
- You Often Snore Loudly – If your partner is constantly complaining about your snoring, you may have sleep apnea. Snoring is a milder form of airway obstruction. The sound comes from the tissue vibrating as air passes over a narrowed airway. Mild snoring may be nothing, but if you are chronically snoring loudly, you should definitely have it checked out.
- You’re Exhausted – Excessive daytime sleepiness is often an ignored symptom. Some people have gotten so used to feeling exhausted all the time, that they don’t view it as something they can change or a side effect of something greater, such as apnea. If you’re getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep at night and are still feeling exhausted during the day, you should talk to your doctor.
- You Wake Up With a Headache – Frequent morning headaches can be a sign that something is wrong. That’s because frequent pauses in breathing during the night decrease the oxygen levels in the brain, causing pain. In a 2001 study, 67 percent of people being tested for sleep problems who often woke up with a headache, were later diagnosed. Often people assume that the headaches are what are causing the sleep disturbance, instead of actually being a symptom of a greater issue.
- You Wake up to Use the Bathroom Frequently – When your body is struggling for air, the flight or fight response triggers a feeling of fullness in the bladder, causing the need to use the bathroom. Frequent nighttime urination (nocturia) is a classic sign.