Sleep apnea can be a very serious illness; apnea is a word that means “cessation of breath”. Sleep apnea occurs when sleeping cycles are disturbed through an individual’s irregular breathing patterns. This may lead to shallow breathing or complete pauses in breathing for anything from several seconds to a minute. It can be caused by an obstruction of the airway, temporary failure of brain signals to activate the muscles that assist breathing, or a combination of both.
Sleep apnea has varying degrees of severity; symptoms and treatments available will depend on the individual and how bad the sleep apnea is. A polysomnogram or “sleep study” is usually used to diagnose sleep apnea. There are many sleep apnea symptoms, most of which are mentioned in this article.
The most obvious Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Loud and Chronic snoring – Snoring is not always a sign of sleep apnea, but many people with obstructive sleep apnea snore because it is harder for air to pass through a narrowed airway. The relaxed soft tissues in and around the throat vibrate, also causing the snoring sound.
Sudden awakening – Sudden and abrupt awakening during the night is a very frequent symptom in people that have sleep apnea. When the body and brain realises that it has insufficient levels of oxygen, the person affected is abruptly woken so that a large breath of air can be taken to try to replenish the depleted oxygen supplies. This is very common in people with sleep apnea, but because they are “asleep” when all of this happens, sometimes the condition goes undiagnosed for prolonged periods of time.
Long pauses in breathing during sleep – This may be noticed by someone else if the affected individual has a sleeping partner, and is clearly one of the most frequent sleep apnea symptoms. Worryingly, these pauses in breath can occur dozens of time every sleeping hour.
Gasping and Choking – The lack of oxygen and immediate need for oxygen can cause the person affected to gasp or choke. Again, the person may not remember the next day, but if they have a sleeping partner they instead may notice it, particularly if it occurs on a regular basis.
Other common Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Daytime Fatigue – A regular feeling of fatigue, exhaustion and lethargy on a daily or almost daily basis can be one of the sleep apnea symptoms. Everyone has days when they feel tired, but if an individual feels very tired on a regular basis, this may mean they are suffering from sleep apnea. A person who is very tired can find it difficult to concentrate, and reaction times may be slower. This can be very dangerous if you are driving or operating machinery.
Apparent Insomnia – As respiratory and sleeping cycles are completely disrupted, a person may “toss and turn” all night and feel as if they never really slept when they get up on a morning.
Dry mouth – Because facial muscles move in an unnatural way during sleep, this can cause a person affected to have an excessively dry mouth. Like with snoring, although many people with sleep apnea have a dry mouth when they wake, people who don’t have sleep apnea may also get a dry mouth through sleeping with their mouth open.
Morning Headaches – There is not a clear link between morning headaches and sleep apnea, but many people who have sleep apnea suffer from headaches in the morning. Some people also experience headaches at night. Headaches are thought to be caused by low oxygen saturation levels in the blood and excessive tiredness.
Additional Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Pain in the chest – This is one of the fairly common sleep apnea symptoms. The low oxygen saturation levels in the blood cause the heart to pump faster, which can lead to chest pain and high blood pressure. There is no concrete evidence to prove the link between high blood pressure and sleep apnea. However, many people who have sleep apnea develop high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. When they are effectively treated for sleep apnea, this can sometimes lower their blood pressure.
Cyanosis – When tissues close to the skin have low levels of oxygen, the skin can become blue in appearance. This can happen to people with sleep apnea because of lack of oxygen in the body due to irregular breathing.
Poor concentration levels – Due to a consistently low sleep quality and a a lack of oxygen entering the body during sleeping hours, some people who have sleep apnea find it very difficult to concentrate, particularly for prolonged periods of time. This can also lead to poor short term memory. The body cannot survive without oxygen, so prolonged periods without the presence of oxygen can be very damaging to the body.
Frequent toilet trips during the night, also known as nocturia. There are many causes of nocturia, particularly amongst the elderly, but people with sleep apnea sometimes find themselves visiting the toilet at very regular intervals during their sleeping hours.
Erectile Dysfunction – Both sleep apnea and impotency are due to different groups of nerves not functioning correctly. Some argue that there is a connection between the two.
Bad moods and “mood swings” – Primarily due to a lack of restful sleep, people with sleep apnea can experience prolonged periods of somewhat unaccountable bad moods.
Depression and Anxiety – Firstly, lack of restful sleep for days in a row can contribute to depression and anxiety. Secondly, increased carbon dioxide levels in the blood (hypocapnia) can affect the part of the brain associated with anxiety and panic attacks. People with sleep apnea can become susceptible to depression or anxiety attacks.
If you have sleep apnea symptoms
Many of the sleep apnea symptoms that people experience are mentioned in this article. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is advisable to speak to a medical professional. Your sleeping partner may have noticed some of these symptoms in you. Diagnosing sleep apnea early can prevent many of the associated problems from developing. There are a wide range of treatments available.