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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.
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.
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
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
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
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.