How Do I Know If I Have Sleep Apnea?

Do you often feel tired during the day, even though you think you've slept enough? Do you snore loudly, wake up frequently during the night, and even wake up your bed partner? If so, you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects how well you sleep at night. It can cause snoring, restless sleep, and even more serious problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. In this article, we will discuss how to know if you have sleep apnea, and what to do if you think you might be affected.

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Sleep Apnea 101 | Symptoms | Sleep Apnea Complications | Diagnosis

Do you often feel tired during the day, even though you think you’ve slept enough?

Do you snore loudly, wake up frequently during the night, and even wake up your bed partner?

If so, you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects how well you sleep at night.

It can cause snoring, restless sleep, and even more serious problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.

In this article, we will discuss how to know if you have sleep apnea, and what to do if you think you might be affected.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the muscles at the back and upper airway of your throat relax during sleep, making it difficult to breathe.

When this happens, you wake up briefly, usually with a snort or choking sound, and slightly tighten these muscles so that air can start flowing again.

Sleep apnea episodes occur repeatedly throughout the night, affecting how your body is able to rest. These episodes can impact how well you feel during the day.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive (OSA), central (CSA), and complex or mixed sleep apnea (MSA).

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It’s caused by a physical obstruction in your airway, such as enlarged tonsils or tongue, when you sleep.

Central sleep apnea happens when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing. Mixed or complex sleep apnea is when you suffer from both obstructive and central sleep apneas.

how do I know if I have sleep apnea
Sleep Apnea Pathways Illustration

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

There are several telltale signs of sleep apnea that you will most likely exhibit if you have it.

The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

Loud snoring

When you breathe in and out, the air has to pass through your throat on its way to your lungs.

You may snore when there’s too much soft tissue at the back of your throat for air to move freely.

Your muscles relax when you’re asleep and this can cause vibrations that make a snoring sound as you breathe which is a common sign of sleep apnea.

Gasping or choking during sleep

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may stop breathing several times throughout the night. You might gasp for air as you wake up briefly and then go right back to sleep.

This can happen many times a night without your knowledge which results in poor sleep.

Sleepiness or fatigue

Sleep apnea can make you feel tired the next day and during the daytime because it disturbs how well your body is able to rest.

This is called excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS. Even if you sleep for eight hours a night, it still may not be enough to keep you feeling alert and energetic during the day.

This is especially true if you’re getting up multiple times throughout the night to catch your breath.

A dry mouth or sore throat in the morning

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your airway can be blocked so that air cannot move freely.

It’s possible to breathe through your mouth when this happens, but it will dry out your mouth and leave you with a sore throat the next day.

Memory problems and difficulty concentrating

Sleep apnea can also affect how you think and concentrate.

This is because when you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it’s harder to focus and remember things.

Sleep Apnea 101

Morning headaches

If you’re waking up frequently throughout the night, it can disrupt how well your body is able to rest. This can lead to headaches in the morning.

Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)

Sleep apnea causes frequent awakenings at night and that makes it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. Insomnia is a common symptom of sleep apnea.

Irritability or moodiness

Not getting enough restful sleep can make you feel irritable and moody during the day.

You may find yourself snapping at your friends, family members, or colleagues because you’re feeling fatigued from how disrupted your sleep has been.

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Depression

People with sleep apnea are at an increased risk for depression.

This is because when you’re not getting the sleep you need, it can take a toll on your mood and emotions.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor and discuss whether you might have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can be treated, but it’s important to get a diagnosis first.

What are some complications that can arise with sleep apnea?

There are a few potential health problems that can develop from untreated sleep apnea. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

One study has also shown a correlation between obstructive sleep apnea and cognitive decline as you age. 

What are some risk factors for sleep apnea?

There are a few different risk factors that can make you more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. These include:

Being overweight or obese

If you have excess weight or are obese you are more likely to have sleep apnea because a narrowing of the airway can put pressure on your throat and make it harder for you to breathe.

Having a large neck size

If you have a large neck size you are at an increased risk for sleep apnea. With a larger neck circumference you are more likely to have a large tongue or tonsils, both of which can obstruct your airway.

Being male

Men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women. This is because men are more likely to be overweight and have a larger neck size.

Smoking cigarettes

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing sleep apnea. Smoking can cause inflammation and fluid retention in your upper airway.

Alcohol or sedative use

Alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat and tongue, making it easier for them to obstruct your airway. Sedatives have a similar effect on how well you breathe while you’re sleeping.

Being older

As you get older, your throat muscles relax and can make it easier for them to obstruct your airway. This is why sleep apnea becomes more common as people age into their 50s and 60s.

Having a family history of sleep apnea

If someone in your family has sleep apnea, you’re at an increased risk of having it. The likelihood of developing sleep apnea can be passed down through your genes.

Nasal congestion or allergies

If you have nasal congestion or allergies, you are at a higher risk of having sleep apnea. It may become more difficult to breathe through your nose easily while sleeping which can make it harder to get enough oxygen during the night.

Medical conditions

If you have certain medical conditions you are at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. These include heart disease, type II diabetes mellitus, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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When should I go to a doctor about sleep apnea?

You should call your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above, such as snoring, gasping for air while sleeping, or feeling tired during the day.

Your doctor will be able to do a physical exam and ask you some questions about your sleep habits to see if you might have sleep apnea.

How does a doctor diagnose sleep apnea?

If your doctor suspects that you might have obstructive sleep apnea, they may do a sleep study called a polysomnography to see how well you’re breathing at night.

This is an overnight sleep study that is usually conducted by a sleep specialist in a sleep center.

This test will involve wearing electrodes on your head and body while you sleep, which will track how often you stop breathing and how long it takes for you to start breathing during sleep again.

If the results of the sleep study show that you have many episodes of apnea per hour, then your doctor will diagnose you with obstructive sleep apnea.

The doctor may recommend treatment options such as using a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine or wearing an oral appliance while sleeping to help keep your airways open at night.

Surgery is also an option, if necessary.

Summary

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to see your doctor and get them checked out.

Sleep apnea can cause a host of health problems if left untreated, so it’s important to get diagnosed and start treatment as soon as possible.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist called a sleep specialist to do a sleep study called a polysomnography to see how well you’re breathing at night.

If the results of the sleep study show that you have more than enough episodes of apnea per hour while asleep, then your doctor will diagnose you with sleep apnea and recommend treatment options.

Treatment for sleep apnea may include using a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine, wearing an oral appliance while sleeping, and surgery.

It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible if you have sleep apnea, so don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you think you might have it.

If you have any further questions please talk to a doctor, sleep specialist, or healthcare provider to see if you have sleep apnea and to determine which treatment option is right for you.

References and Sources:

Mayo Clinic

Cleveland Clinic 

Sleep Foundation

medically reviewed and fact checked
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