Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Many people see sleep apnea as a minor, private issue. However, if left untreated, this disorder can be deadly regardless of a person’s weight, age, or gender.
Consider the events of September 29, 2016 in New Jersey, where an unexpected train crash resulted in over 100 people injured and 1 person dead. The reason for the crash? USA Today reports that Thomas Gallagher, the 48-year-old conductor of the train, was diagnosed with sleep apnea after the incident—which officials tout as a likely cause of the disaster.
This disorder often leads to daytime sleepiness, and Gallagher recalled waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab with no memory of the crash. While investigations are still ongoing, this New Jersey disaster does paint a dangerous picture of sleep apnea left untreated.
Federal regulators are already taking action, stating that no passenger train operator will be allowed to work unless they are first tested and treated for sleep apnea.
Of course, sleep apnea isn’t just deadly for train conductors. But how do you know if you have this disorder? Before getting into its symptoms, let’s look at some sleep apnea basics.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Apnea is a brief suspension of breathing. Sleep apnea then is a disorder characterized by many breathing stops over the course of a night’s sleep. This condition is often divided into two or three main kinds:
● Obstructive sleep apnea – This sleep disorder occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat blocks the airway, resulting in frequent breathing pauses during sleep. OSA is the most common kind of sleep apnea.
● Central sleep apnea – This kind of sleep disorder occurs because the brain temporarily halts signals to the muscles in charge of breathing. Symptoms are often similar to obstructive sleep apnea, with the difference being the cause of the breathing pauses. CSA is often found among patients with other serious health conditions, including heart and kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, and problems with the brainstem (stroke or brain infection).
● Complex sleep apnea – In 2006, Mayo Clinic researchers discovered a third kind of sleep apnea—complex sleep apnea, or CompSA. (This is also referred to as mixed sleep apnea among some medical professionals.) Complex sleep apnea is found among some obstructive sleep apnea patients who also get central sleep apnea in the process of OSA treatment.
CSA usually results as a side effect of CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure), one of the most common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. As might be expected, complex sleep apnea can lead to patients experiencing symptoms of both OSA and CSA.
Sleep Apnea Statistics
- The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine states that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects 10% of all Americans, totaling roughly 30 million people.
- 26% of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years old have sleep apnea, though most cases go undiagnosed.
- The American Sleep Apnea Association states that central sleep apnea (CSA) accounts for 20% of all sleep apnea cases, making it significantly less common than OSA.
- In one study, 15% of all OSA patients surveyed were found to have complex sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Health Risks
Risks for other serious illnesses increase with untreated sleep apnea. Some of these include heart attack, stroke, obesity, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure—not to mention the dangers of sleep-deprived driving. This is why learning the signs of sleep apnea and seeing a qualified sleep expert for treatment are so important.
8 Sleep Apnea Symptoms
1. Loud, frequent snoring. The American Academy of Otolaryngology states that 45% of American adults snore occasionally, and 25% snore constantly. Snoring doesn’t automatically mean you have sleep apnea, but loud and frequent snoring is often a telltale sign of OSA.
2. Gasping, choking, snorting, or long pauses in breathing during sleep. Any of these symptoms is a reliable indicator of sleep apnea. Many people suffering from OSA experience a breathing pause that lasts 10-20 seconds or longer, after which breathing resumes with a snorting or choking sound. The NIH reports that these kinds of pauses can often happen 30 times or more an hour. Such symptoms occur because of a blocked or collapsed airway.
Most people aren’t usually aware of breathing pauses and their accompanying sounds while sleeping, so a bed partner or family member can alert their loved one of these kinds of symptoms. For others, video or audio recording of one’s sleep is another way to become aware of these common signs of sleep apnea.
3. Feeling tired or falling asleep throughout the day. Because people with sleep apnea have their natural sleep cycles interrupted on a nightly basis, when they wake up they often feel unrefreshed. As such, this low quality of sleep often carries over into daytime habits such as working and driving. In fact, even when a person suffering from sleep apnea isn’t engaged in strenuous activities, sleep apnea can lead to falling asleep at undesired or inopportune times.
The Hoboken Station train crash mentioned earlier is an extreme example of this sleep apnea symptom. However, a recent study published in the Sleep journal showed that “people with obstructive sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in an accident than people without the sleep disorder.” As a result, driving while sleep deprived produces similar dangers as driving drunk. These statistics alone make sleep apnea an important condition to identify and treat as soon as possible.
4. Difficulty focusing and emotional instability. If you experience difficulty concentrating, memory loss, mood swings, and personality changes, you may be at the mercy of sleep apnea. Because your body needs to work harder while sleeping, mental energy evaporates quickly during the day.
According to the NIH, sleep deficiency can alter brain activity in many key ways. Nobody wants to sleep for 8 hours but only function like they were only asleep for 4. This is why testing for sleep apnea is important if you want to stay sharp mentally and physically.
5. Waking up in the middle of the night, often with shortness of breath or a need to urinate. While these symptoms are especially common among people with central sleep apnea, people with OSA may experience them as well.
Frequently-occurring awakenings that happen suddenly and leave you breathless are due to a lack of oxygen. However, did you know that nocturia (needing to wake up and urinate at night) is another common sign of OSA? Some suggest that treating sleep apnea can also lead to reducing nighttime trips to the bathroom—another critical factor that affects sleep quality.
6. Gaining weight. While obesity is one cause of OSA, sleep apnea can also lead to gaining more weight as a symptom. This is because insufficient sleep and weight gain often go hand-in-hand. In one famous study, women who slept under 6 hours each night were more likely to gain 11 pounds compared to women who slept 7 hours a night.
7. Sexual dysfunction and reduced libido. Researchers have clearly documented the connection between sleep apnea and many kinds of sexual problems. In one study of 401 men who showed up for sleep apnea testing, 70% of those diagnosed also experienced erectile dysfunction issues.
Even among women, scientists have discovered higher rates of sexual problems among sleep apnea patients. By contrast, many who have undergone sleep apnea treatment (like CPAP therapy) have discovered reversals in sexual dysfunction issues.
8. Morning headaches, sore throats, and dry mouth. These are other symptoms that can result from a blocked airway and lack of oxygen due to OSA or CPA.
Note that while some sleep apnea patients suffer from many of these symptoms, others suffer from only a few. This is why getting an examination with Dr. Beshar is so important.
Don’t Let Sleep Apnea Rob You Of Health – We Can Help!
As bad as sleep apnea is, it often goes undiagnosed among many. And the chance of driving accidents, heart failure, strokes, obesity, and diabetes goes up with untreated sleep apnea of any kind.
If you’re a Manhattan resident suffering from one or more of the above symptoms, then give Dr. Marc J. Beshar Dentistry a call. We get to the root of the problem so that you can rest well, rise with refreshment, and enjoy your waking hours to the fullest.
Your life doesn’t have to be a train wreck of sleep deprivation symptoms. Schedule an appointment with us and lay sleep apnea to rest for good.
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Mayo Clinic (2006, September 1). Complex Apnea Another Cause for Losing Sleep.
Mayo Clinic (2015, August 25). Sleep apnea.
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Peters, B. (2016, April 18). How Does CPAP for Sleep Apnea Positively Affect Your Sex Life?
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The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine (2016). About Us.
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