Sleep apnea is said to be as common as diabetes and can be quite serious, which means that it is important to diagnose if you or someone you know suffers from sleep apnea. The following is a list of common symptoms of sleep apnea. Keep in mind that just because you suffer from a few of these symptoms, that does not necessarily mean that you have sleep apnea. If you feel that most of these symptoms apply to you and you have a poor quality of sleep, contact your primary caregiver to set up a sleep test.
1. Consistent, Loud, or Disruptive Snoring
Snoring, itself, does not mean you have sleep apnea, but almost all those who suffer from sleep apnea experience chronic and disruptive snoring. Excessively loud snoring, when a symptom of sleep apnea, is caused by the relaxation of the muscles in the throat and the soft palate, blocking the airway. If you snore loud enough to consistently wake up your partner, this may be a sign of sleep apnea and should be addressed by a physician.
2. Extreme Daytime Sleepiness
Extreme fatigue means that you are often dosing off during conversations, meals, or even while driving. When your airway is blocked during sleep, the REM cycle is interrupted multiple times and deep sleep is never completely achieved, causing extreme daytime sleepiness. Wanting to take a nap during the afternoon does not necessarily point to sleep apnea and is only considered moderate daytime sleepiness.
3. Gasping for Air During Sleep
People with sleep apnea often find themselves waking up gasping for air, or their partner wakes up to see them doing so. When your airway is blocked, the body's involuntary reaction for more air causes gasping or chocking to occur in order to clear the airway and start breathing again.
4. Morning Headaches
While headaches can be caused by many different environmental or health factors, if you struggle with sleep apnea, you are more likely to wake up with morning headaches because of how hard your body has to work during the night to keep you breathing. An inconsistent air supply puts stress on your internal organs, which causes a headache as your body tries to communicate that something is wrong.
5. Frequent Nighttime Urination
Feeling a consistent need to urinate when you wake up during the night is also a symptom of sleep apnea. When the soft palate blocks your airway, it puts stress on your heart. Your heart rate then decreases. The oxygen saturation levels in your blood decrease, and your blood becomes more acidic, due to the imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. Waking up gasping helps the body clear the airway, so you once again begin to breathe. However, at the same time, your overworked heart releases a hormone into the bloodstream. This hormone controls the disposal of salt and water in the body, helping the kidneys control urination. When it is released, the kidneys begin to produce more urine and tell the body that you have to urinate, in order to get rid of the perceived “excess” salt and water.
6. Dry Mouth
When the throat is blocked, the body will use any available means to begin breathing again. Breathing through the mouth is a key sign that not enough air is being taken in, since you cannot gasp through your nose. Waking up with a dry mouth can be a sign that you spent most of the night breathing through your mouth.
*Warning signs #7, #8, and #9 are not accurate symptoms to use to diagnose if you have sleep apnea or not. While those with sleep apnea often suffer from them, so do many others who struggle with different disorders. Keep this in mind while reading them.
Depression is a serious and common condition. If you find that your depression is not treatable by normal methods, then it may be caused by a poor quality of sleep at night.
8. Irritability and Mood Changes
Consistent poor quality of sleep, morning headaches, extreme daytime sleepiness, and other symptoms of sleep apnea can cause irritability or sudden mood changes. Anyone who has experienced a poor night of sleep understands the subsequent irritability the following day and can understand why this is a common symptom of sleep apnea.
9. Memory and Concentration Problems
Research has proven how valuable a good night of sleep is to memory retention and concentration. When the body is deprived of REM sleep, the mind cannot commit events to memory or focus well on a task at hand. While poor REM sleep can be attributed to many other sleep disorders, including insomnia, it is a common sign of sleep apnea.
10. Characteristic Risks
Certain lifestyle choices or health characteristics put you at more risk than others. Some lifestyle choices are smoking and alcohol use, which predispose you to sleep apnea. Some health characteristics are obesity, diabetes and hypertension. If your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or above, which is in the overweight category, then you are either at a higher risk for developing sleep apnea or you already have it and your body is trying to communicate this to you. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes 2, then you should analyze the quality of your sleep and consider if you need to discuss the possibility of sleep apnea with your current physician.