Know the Symptoms of
Sleep Apnea

Many people do not realize they have sleep apnea symptoms until it is too late. One of the biggest problems with identifying that you are suffering from sleep apnea (or "sleep apnoea" in British english, common misspellings — sleep apnia, sleep apena and sleep aponea) is that when the symptoms of sleep apnea occur you are asleep! In many cases it is a family member or bed partner that notices one or more sleep apnea symptoms or complications.

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  • Frequent silences during sleep — Sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction to the airway. There are various ways in which this can occur but when the airway becomes blocked you stop breathing for a period of time. During these periods you are not breathing or snoring either and can be heard by others (or a recording device you may use to monitor your sleep) as moments of silence.
  • Gasping for air or choking during sleep — One of the more noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea is awakening from sleep and choking or gasping for air. As a result of sleep apnea the oxygen levels will drop. Once they get too low your brain will automatically attempt to wake you in order to restart your breathing. This also serves to tense up the neck muscles to allow better air flow as well.
  • Awakening frequently to restart breathing — In addition to your oxygen levels dropping and gasping for air is that each time this happens you are awakened by your brain and your sleep is interrupted. This makes it difficult to get enough restful hours of sleep and interferes with REM sleep as well.
  • Loud snoring — While not everyone that snores has sleep apnea one of the symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring. Snoring is the result of a partial blockage of the airway but can be particularly loud with someone suffering from sleep apnea. As the sleep apnea condition worsens the snoring may become more frequent and louder.
  • Feeling unrefreshed after sleeping — A combination of factors contribute to a poor sleep. Frequent waking due to the brain forcing you awake when oxygen levels get low and for frequent urination during the night reduce the overall number of hours of sleep. This also prohibits getting into the deeper levels of sleep and REM sleep necessary for a refreshing sleep.
Tired looking man
Tired looking man
  • Daytime sleepiness — Since many of the other symptoms of sleep apnea interfere with getting a good nights rest it naturally follows that daytime sleepiness will occur. Sleep apnea sufferers often find it necessary to take naps during the day. However, they are also of limited benefit.
  • Morning headaches — Lack of sleep, release of stress horomones, cycles of reduced oxygen levels and increased blood pressure contibute to morning headaches.
  • Memory or learning problems and inability to concentrate — Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and chronic lack of sleep will eventually affect memory and make learning more difficult. It can also become very diffucult to focus on tasks.
  • Emotional disturbances such as irritablility, mood swings or depression, reduced libido (sex drive) — We all know how testy children get when they haven't had their sleep. Well adults are no different, and chronic lack of sleep is a sleep apnea symptom that affects our ability to cope emotionally. All of the symptoms of sleep apnea combined conspire to create a situation that results in irritability, dramatic mood swings and reduced libido. Left unchecked this can also result in severe depression.
  • Urination at night — As a result of lowered oxygen levels the heart has to work harder and can become enlarged which results in an increase in pressure. This pressure increase in the heart may be interpretted by the body to mean there is too much liquid and it raises the levels of a diuretic called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP). When treatment is received for the sleep apnea (such as surgery or CPAP) the symptom of frequent urination goes away once the sleep apnea is corrected.3
  • Excessive sweating during sleep — Night sweats are a commonly reported symptoms of sleep apnea. However, according to a study at the University of Oklahoma, "Sleep apnea is often mentioned as a possible cause of night sweats, but there is little evidence to support this assertion." The study concluded, "Subjective night sweats are associated with a variety of other sleep-related symptoms, but we could find no evidence for an association between subjective night sweats and objective evidence of specific sleep disorders."4
  • Dry throat upon awakening — Those suffering from sleep apnea breathe through the mouth and as a result drying of the throat occurs. The throat can also become sore and this is one of the sleep apnea symptoms that sleep apnea patients will be able to detect upon awakening.
  • Weakened immune system — Reduction in core body temperature, reduction in immune system capability with lowered white cell count, reduced white cell activity and reduction in the release of growth hormone result in a compromised immune system. If you find yourself constantly ill and catching every "bug" going around it could be a tip-off that you have sleep apnea if you also have other symptoms of sleep apnea.
  • Weight gain — This symptom of sleep apnea is related to the effects of sleep deprivation. Hormone levels are impacted by lack of sleep and influence how much we eat and even the kinds of foods we crave. Being overweight is also a risk factor for sleep apnea. The worse the sleep apnea gets the greater the potential for weight gain. This can become a vicious cycle if measures are not taken to control both.
  • Diabetes — Sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours/night) has been linked to an increased prevalence of diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance. Interestingly, the same was found for excessive sleep (greater than 9 hrs/night).
  • High blood pressure, irregular heart beats, heart attacks and strokes — Whenever you stop breathing your body naturally responds to the threat by releasing adrenaline which results in a spike in your blood pressure. This happens many times every night with sleep apnea patients and it takes a toll on their body. This can damage not only the heart but other organs as well. Heart attacks and strokes can be triggered or the odds of having them greatly increased, especially if you already have other risk factors.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children

In children sleep apnea symptoms include those above but have some differences. For example rather than sleepiness during the day you may notice hyperactivity or increased agressiveness in your child.

Betwetting episodes can occur frequently and you may notice your child sleeping in unusual positions.

Another symptom of sleep apnea in children is that they may breathe through the mouth rather than the nose even during the day.

Since sleep apnea reduces the amount of growth hormone release one of the signs that parents may notice is delayed growth and development. Often it is this symptom that gets noticed and results in a diagnosis of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can develop into a life threatening condition so it is important to be alert for symptoms of sleep apnea and consult with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

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