Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you stop breathing briefly multiple times during the night, disrupting your rest and wreaking havoc on your body over time. It’s not just about feeling groggy in the morning; sleep apnea can be dangerous to your overall health. If you’re worried you might be suffering from this condition, keep an eye out for these five symptoms.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a medical condition characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. It’s not just a single type of disorder; there are actually three main types of sleep apnea to be aware of:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common type, where the muscles in your throat relax excessively, causing a temporary blockage of the upper airway.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Less common but more severe, CSA occurs when your brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this type is a blend of OSA and CSA. It generally occurs in people who are being treated for OSA but still experience breathing issues.
Most Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
People with sleep apnea often struggle to notice the symptoms because they aren’t awake when the symptoms occur, or because some of the symptoms like daytime sleepiness can be contributed to other medical conditions or lifestyle habits.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, reach out to a sleep specialist who can do an overnight sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea.
Excessive snoring is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea. Loud, persistent snoring is a clear sign that something’s not right with your breathing. The reason this type of snoring is so intense is that your airway is getting obstructed, causing the soft tissues in your throat to vibrate vehemently as you struggle to breathe. This is far beyond the soft, intermittent snoring that many people experience. If your bed partner complains of your snoring, this may be a sign that you have untreated sleep apnea.
Choking or Gasping for Air (Breathing Pauses)
Being suddenly awaked by a choking or gasping sound is a common symptom of sleep apnea, specifically obstructive sleep apnea. These pauses in breathing or changes in breathing patterns happen because your airway gets blocked temporarily.
Being sleepy throughout the day can be attributed to a number of things, from stress to poor sleep habits like staying up too late. People with sleep apnea, though, struggle with daytime fatigue on a daily basis. Your sleep cycle is repeatedly disrupted, preventing you from reaching those deeper stages of sleep your body needs for genuine rest. As a result, you feel perpetually tired, lacking the energy for daily activities.
Waking up with a headache is often the norm for people with sleep apnea. These headaches occur because your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen during the night, resulting in vasodilation—the widening of blood vessels—to compensate. This can lead to headaches that typically go away after being awake for a while but make the morning routine that much harder.
With sleep apnea, mood swings can become frequent. Lack of quality sleep can significantly affect your emotional well-being. Additionally, low blood oxygen levels can lead to hormonal imbalances, making mood swings more likely.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Understanding the risk factors for sleep apnea is crucial because it’s not just about knowing the symptoms; it’s also about knowing if you’re more predisposed to developing this condition. Below are some common risk factors that can heighten your chances:
- Overweight or Obesity: Extra weight, especially around the neck, increases the likelihood of airway obstruction.
- Family History of Sleep Apnea: A familial predisposition to sleep disorders can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea.
- Alcohol Consumption: Drinking alcohol before bed makes airway obstruction more likely.
- Smoking: Tobacco smoke can irritate and inflame airways, making smokers more susceptible to sleep apnea.
- Age: The risk of sleep apnea tends to increase with age due to factors like decreased muscle tone and increased fatty tissue.
- Gender: Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea compared to women, although the risk for women increases if they’re overweight or post-menopausal.
- Nasal Congestion: Difficulty breathing through the nose due to anatomical issues or allergies can elevate the risk.
- Medical Conditions: Conditions like congestive heart failure and and diabetes have been linked to a higher prevalence of sleep apnea.
- Use of Sedatives: Medications that relax muscles, such as sleeping pills or certain anti-anxiety meds, can worsen airway obstruction during sleep.
- Neck Circumference: A thicker neck may have narrower airways, making obstruction more possible.
Why Sleep Apnea Can Be Dangerous
Sleep apnea can lead to a range of health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Constant disruptions in your sleep pattern can also impact your mental health, making you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
Common Treatments for Sleep Apnea
If you’re experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider for a tailored sleep apneal treatment plan that fits your needs. Here are some common treatments your doctor or dentist may recommend:
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This machine delivers air pressure through a mask, keeping the airway open during sleep.
- Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP): Similar to CPAP but with variable air pressure for inhaling and exhaling, making it easier for some users.
- Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs): These dental appliances reposition the lower jaw and tongue to keep the airway open.
- Tongue Retaining Devices: These work by holding the tongue in a different position to open up the airway.
- Surgery: Surgery may be recommended for severe cases.
- Positional Therapy: Specially designed pillows or devices can encourage sleeping in positions that reduce airway obstruction.
- Lifestyle Changes: Weight loss, quitting smoking, and reduced alcohol consumption can all lessen the severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
- Oral Pressure Therapy: This involves a mouthpiece and vacuum device that help to maintain an open airway by pulling the soft palate forward.
What to Do if You Think You Have Sleep Apnea
If any of this sounds like you, it’s time to take action. Schedule a consultation with us today. We can help guide you through the next steps, which may include lifestyle changes, using devices like oral appliances that are often effective treatments for mild to moderate sleep apnea.