Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially deadly condition. If you have it, you are six times more likely to die from almost any cause (what researchers call all-cause mortality). However, one of the big challenges in treating sleep apnea is that most people don’t know they have it because it happens during sleep. To figure out whether you might have sleep apnea, it’s important to collect signs and symptoms from many different sources. First, you should note if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Morning headache
  • Waking up unrested
  • Low energy during the day
  • Tendency to fall asleep at work or while driving
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Loss of drive or interest
  • Sexual disinterest or dysfunction
  • Weight gain or inability to lose weight

These are some of the most common symptoms reported, though there are others, mostly related to a loss of energy and difficulty sleeping.

However, you should also pay attention if your sleeping partner reports any of the following signs:

  • Loud snoring
  • Restlessness
  • Clenching and grinding teeth
  • Gasping or stopping breathing

Snoring is the most commonly reported sign because it’s the one that keeps your partner awake at night. In general, the louder your snoring, the more likely it is that you have sleep apnea.

But because sleep apnea impacts your health significantly, many people first become aware of their risk after their doctor diagnoses one of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Low testosterone
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes

High blood pressure in particular is strongly associated with sleep apnea. If you’ve been prescribed medication for your high blood pressure but it’s not working, the odds are very good that you have sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Dr. Siegel with awards for cosmetic dentistry.Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing stops significantly during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. You can have both types at the same time, which is sometimes described as a third type, complex sleep apnea.

In obstructive sleep apnea, your breathing stops because your airway collapses. This can happen at any point from your nose to your lungs, but the more serious types occur between your mouth and your lungs.

In central sleep apnea, your brain stops sending signals to tell your body to breathe. This is much rarer but is more common after people experience certain types of heart problems.

No matter why your breathing stops, in all cases, your brain has to wake up to resume breathing once it senses the critical oxygen shortage. So not only is your body suffering periodic oxygen shortages but it’s also getting disrupted sleep, which means you’re not getting rest or performing the other vital functions of sleep. Although you might wake up hundreds of times a night, you might not be consciously aware of waking. When you do awaken, you don’t know why you awoke.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Although your symptoms may give us strong clues, there’s only one way to diagnose sleep apnea: a sleep test. A sleep test monitors your breathing, heart, and other variables during sleep to see how often you are waking up during sleep. Most people can take a sleep test at home, although if it doesn’t work, you might have to go to a sleep lab.

Based on the results of your sleep test, your apnea will be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, which can affect your treatment options.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

The most commonly prescribed sleep apnea treatment is CPAP. CPAP is a pump that attaches to some type of mask. The pump forces air through the mask and down your throat. This keeps your airway open and supplies you with air even if your body isn’t breathing. CPAP is considered the gold standard of treatment because it is essentially 100% effective when it’s used regularly. Unfortunately, CPAP is also very uncomfortable. Less than half of all patients use their CPAP according to the guidelines. This means that half of all people prescribed CPAP still have untreated sleep apnea.

Another option for sleep apnea treatment is an oral appliance, like the kind Dr. Siegel uses. You put this appliance in you