Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions, called "apneic events," can last from a few seconds to minutes and occur multiple times throughout the night. As a result, people with sleep apnea often wake up tired and unrefreshed, even after a full night's sleep.
There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type and occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite the effort to breathe. On the other hand, Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the brain fails to transmit proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Both types of sleep apnea can cause serious problems, such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and accidents or falls. People who think they might have sleep apnea should see a doctor to get tested and treated so that their symptoms and the health risks that come with them can be managed properly.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Here are some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring: This is a common sign of obstructive sleep apnea and can be accompanied by choking or gasping sounds during sleep.
- Stopping breathing while sleeping: This can be seen by a bed partner or picked up by a device that tracks sleep, like a sleep study.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness: People with sleep apnea often wake up tired and unrefreshed, despite getting a full night's sleep. During the day, they may feel tired and sleepy, making it hard for them to concentrate and do normal things.
- Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep: People with sleep apnea may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep due to disruptions in breathing during the night.
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat: This can be due to repeated episodes of shallow breathing or mouth breathing during sleep.
- Morning headaches: People with sleep apnea may experience headaches in the morning due to the lack of oxygen to the brain during sleep.
- Restless tossing and turning during sleep: People with sleep apnea may move around frequently during the night, trying to find a comfortable position that will allow them to breathe more easily.
- Irritability, mood swings, and depression: Sleep apnea can keep a person from getting enough sleep, which can hurt their emotional health and lead to irritability, mood swings, and depression.
It's important to note that not all individuals with sleep apnea will experience all of these symptoms, and some may have symptoms not listed here. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it's best to consult a doctor or sleep specialist for proper evaluation and diagnosis.
How Do I know If I have Sleep Apnea Or Not?
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, the best way to confirm a diagnosis is to see a doctor or a sleep specialist. The following diagnostic tests are commonly used to diagnose sleep apnea:
- Polysomnography (PSG) or a sleep study: This test is done in a sleep center and involves monitoring several body functions, including brain activity, eye movement, heart rate, and breathing patterns during sleep.
- Home sleep apnea testing (HSAT): This test can be done at home and uses portable monitoring equipment to track breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and other important information during sleep.
- Physical exam: Your doctor may do a physical exam, which may include measuring your neck, to see if you have any physical traits that make you more likely to have sleep apnea, like a big neck.
- Medical and sleep history: Your doctor may ask questions about your sleep habits, such as the quality of your sleep, and any symptoms you experience, such as snoring, choking or gasping during sleep and frequent awakenings during the night.
- Sleep questionnaires: Your doctor may also ask you to fill out a sleep questionnaire to help determine the severity of your sleep apnea and identify any potential risk factors.
It's important to seek medical evaluation and treatment if you suspect you have sleep apnea, as it can have serious consequences if left untreated. A sleep specialist can work with you to develop a treatment plan that best meets your individual needs.