Sleep apnea is a common disorder, affecting more than 22 million people in the US alone. Despite this, patients can live for many years without a diagnosis and essential treatment, leading to a range of mild to serious health issues and symptoms. Fortunately, new research into sleep science and apnea as a condition has enabled many health professionals and their patients to spot key signs and symptoms, helping those living with sleep disorders to seek treatment and improve their overall health outlook.
Subtle Signs Of Sleep Apnea
Patients who are aware of the symptoms and risks associated with sleep apnea are generally more likely to spot the signs of the condition, making education essential for raising awareness and increasing the rate of diagnosis. The limited understanding of apnea in the medical field can lead to several obstacles for those living with symptoms, with 85% of those diagnosed unable to spot signs of a disorder before seeking help, according to studies released by the National Sleep Foundation. Additional challenges may also occur when symptoms only present during sleep, such as snoring and disrupted episodes of breathing, or if health concerns like headaches and daytime fatigue can be linked to other medical complications.
What is sleep apnea and why is a diagnosis so important?
Sleep apnea deprives the body of oxygen during the night and leaves patients feeling tired and run down during the day. This disruptive pattern can lead to many issues in a person’s day-to-day life, impacting work, relationships, and managing a healthy routine. Physically, the effects of the disorder can be difficult for patients, with complications such as heart disease, diabetes, mental health, dementia, and certain cancers increasing. The severity of the disorder will usually determine the risk of other health issues developing, but management and treatment can help reduce this in some patients.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Sleep Apnea?
The most common sign of apnea occurs during the night and can be the most difficult to spot – primarily because the patient may not be aware of it happening! Unless a disturbed and frustrated bed partner raises the alarm or a person can link other symptoms to their quality of sleep, many patients can go years without noticing this tell-tale sign of apnea.
What to look out for: A noisy sleeper who is frequently snoring, snorting, or gasping during the night may be a symptom of apnea, although not all patients will experience this issue.
Experiencing restless nights: Disrupted breathing leads to disrupted sleep, so it’s not unusual to find apnea patients tossing and turning in the night. For this reason, sleep specialists report kicking, thrashing, jerking, and sudden waking all potential symptoms of apnea.
What to look out for: Although tossing and turning may be difficult to spot (similar to snoring) signs of increased activity during sleep, such as tossed pillows or jumbled sheets, may indicate a restless night and support other apnea symptoms.
Suffering daytime fatigue: A good night’s rest should leave a patient feeling ready for the next day ahead, but for apnea sufferers, daytime fatigue can linger throughout the day. This constant state of tiredness is due to a lack of quality sleep and, in more serve cases, chronic sleep deprivation, leading to poor cognitive functions and issues with both mental and physical health.
What to look out for: Many patients may disregard constant fatigue as a side effect of stress, medication, or recent lifestyle changes. However, anyone suffering from regular tiredness, which directly impacts their health, work, relationships, and daily routines, should always seek help from a medical professional.
Struggling with mood: Studies have shown key links between apnea and mental health issues, with depression, mood changes, and sexual dysfunction commonly reported. The ability to achieve a good night’s rest has a large impact on a person’s well-being and mood.
What to look for: Mental health issues can present as a primary or secondary symptom to apnea, as well as many other conditions, making signs harder to spot. However, other common problems, such as snoring, daytime fatigue, and poor cognitive functions, may indicate a more complex disorder such as sleep apnea.
Frequent moring headaches: The increased levels of carbon monoxide and widening blood vessels for patients can often lead to the frustration of daily morning headaches. This is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) caused by the frequent disruption to breathing, lowering oxygen levels during the night.
What to look out for: For apnea patients, a pressing pain (instead of pulsing) may be felt on both sides. These headaches will likely not cause nausea or sensitivity to light and sound but may still impact the ability to carry out day-to-day functions.
Waking to a dry mouth or sore throat: Stress caused to the respiratory tract and airways can leave a patient’s throat feeling dry, painful, or swollen because the patient tends to sleep with an open mouth resulting in a dry mouth. Also, respiratory discomfort is a common symptom of OSA due to the vacuum effect pulling stomach acid into the throat.
What to look out for: If a person is known to sleep with their mouth wide open and wake to a dry mouth or sore throat frequently in the morning, an apnea test should be considered, alongside other medical examinations, to rule out possible causes.
How To Tell If I Have Sleep Apnea: Efficient Screenings
If you’re concerned that you may have sleep apnea symptoms, it’s time to take the first step towards more restful sleep and better health! The Sleep Matters team is interested in improving the quality of life for apnea patients, exploring alternative sleep apnea therapies and accessible, convenient screening methods to get patients the help they need to manage their condition. Contact our office today to schedule a sleep apnea testing appointment and start sleeping soundly!