What Are The Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
One in every 11 Americans suffers from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). That’s an equivalent of nearly 30 million people according to research shared in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. If you’re concerned you may have sleep apnea, you may want to know, what are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders with a long list of well known (and lesser-known) symptoms.
OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the throat muscles relax causing partial or full blockage of the airway, which affects oxygen intake during sleep.
Anyone at any age can suffer from OSA, although many are undiagnosed. Listed below are well recognized and less noticeable sleep apnea symptoms. If you experience two or more symptoms, a sleep apnea test may be advised.
Flagging Sleep Apnea Symptoms
The following symptoms require immediate attention. If you or a loved one experience them, we recommend you visit a sleep specialist as soon as possible for a sleep test.
Snoring is the most common and noticeable symptom of untreated sleep apnea, and can be a serious sign of a blocked upper airway. If you snore, you have an 80% chance you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
During sleep, when the blockage occurs, an individual is forced to make a higher effort to breathe in, and the movement of extra tissue around the neck and throat creates the loud snoring sound.
This extra effort to breathe results in stress on the heart. Therefore those suffering from OSA are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and even heart failure.
Sleep specialists most often prescribe continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices to help alleviate the airway blockages leading to their snoring.
Excessive Tiredness or Drowsiness
The low oxygen intake, the abundance of stress hormones in the body, and difficulty getting into deep sleep states result in low-quality sleep. With poor sleep, many feel excessively tired during the day while working, or doing other daily activities like driving a vehicle.
Investigators from the University of California San Diego have estimated that 3 percent of drivers — equivalent to 4.7 million people — who fall asleep at the wheel suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
Choking or Gasping for Air
Some may experience complete blockages on occasion that cause them to stop breathing. When this occurs they may choke or make a gasping sound for air when the airway reopens.
One reason this occurs is that when there is a blockage, the brain sends a signal to the body to jump-start breathing again. This fight-or-flight reaction triggers the release of norepinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Norepinephrine temporarily tricks the body into thinking it’s awake. This temporary “awake” state is what re-opens the airway passage to create an intake of air.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Norepinephrine is also responsible for significant stress on the body with its continual release throughout the night.
While these arousals don’t wake up most people, the consistent release of norepinephrine raises blood pressure and triggers the narrowing of blood vessels or vasoconstriction. As a result, an individual’s risk of suffering a heart attack or having a stroke is also significantly increased.
If someone has untreated sleep apnea, it also makes it very difficult to control blood pressure (even when on medication). This is why hypertension is a key indicator someone is suffering from sleep apnea.
If you suffer from hypertension but aren’t sure if sleep apnea is a contributing cause, getting an evaluation to rule it out is important. If you’ve been diagnosed, but aren’t adhering to your treatment protocol, you’re putting your heart health at risk.
Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes
Sleep apnea and diabetes are closely linked, with researchers finding 70% of people suffering from type 2 diabetes also suffer from sleep apnea.
Just as there’s a connection between obesity, hypertension, and sleep apnea, excess weight also contributes to both sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes. OSA is characterized by either a partially or fully blocked airway, leading to a lack of airflow. Those who are overweight compound this issue by adding pressure to the upper airway, where fat deposits suppress airflow and make breathing more difficult.
Prediabetes is where blood glucose levels are too high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It’s also extremely common, with 88 million Americans suffering from prediabetes, according to the CDC.
Research from the University of Chicago has shown CPAP treatment for those suffering from prediabetes lowers the risk of developing diabetes. If you suffer from prediabetes, scheduling a sleep test or a sleep study is an important consideration.
Do You Have These Common Risk Factors Of Sleep Apnea?
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Other Less Noticeable Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
People with mild sleep apnea might not snore or experience choking while sleeping, making it harder to identify with sleep apnea. However, mild sleep apnea can worsen over time, become more severe, and silently threaten your health.
Less noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea to watch out for are:
- Dry or sore throat in the morning: Even if you are not loud, you might be gasping for air during the night.
- Acid reflux: Occurs when stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe, causing irritation.
- Morning headaches: The lack of oxygen due to the airway obstruction can cause headaches when waking up.
- Morning Pain In Back, Shoulders, Neck, Hips and Knees: Back pain and sleep apnea often go hand in hand. If your muscles or joints are in pain after you wake up, it might be a sign of sleep deprivation caused by obstructive sleep apnea.
- Anxiety and depression: Underlying emotional instabilities such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are worsened by sleep apnea, and are indicative of the sleep disorder. Feeling anxious when you wake up can also indicate a larger problem, and is often linked to the adrenaline response created in the body when sleep apnea is undiagnosed or untreated.
- Weight gain: A lack of oxygen during sleep can impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight in multiple ways. One reason is the hormonal imbalance that results from poor sleep which makes weight loss nearly impossible. Carrying excess weight can also constrict the upper airway, making sleep apnea worse, and being overweight increases the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Both health issues are also closely linked to sleep apnea.
- Brain fog and forgetfulness: The brain doesn’t get enough time to replenish and declutter itself, which is what usually happens when we sleep. As a result, people with sleep apnea tend to have memory loss and cannot focus.
- Insomnia: This disorder is characterized by either having trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or trouble getting back to sleep after waking up during the night. It’s been shown that anywhere from 39 percent to 58 percent of OSA patients also have insomnia. It’s also believed that up to 43 percent of older populations with chronic insomnia have undiagnosed sleep apnea.
- Reduced interest in sex: Sleep apnea decreases testosterone production and reduces sex drive in both men and women.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, don’t wait for more serious warning signs to appear. The sooner sleep apnea is detected, the easier it will be to treat and control.
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