How Do You Know If You Have Sleep Apnea?
Sleep disorders are more common than you might realize. About 40 million people in the United States have a long-term chronic sleep disorder, and another 20 million people suffer from occasional sleep problems. And unfortunately, one of the most serious long-term sleep complications is also one of the most common: sleep apnea.
It is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses or breaks in breathing while you’re asleep. The condition affects an estimated 20 million Americans, but according to Alaska Sleep Clinic, 80 percent of cases go undetected. So how can you tell if you have sleep apnea? If you do have it, what can you do about it?
Why It Matters
According to Snore Nation, there are actually three types of sleep apnea:
- Central sleep apnea (CSA), which is caused by a problem with brain signaling,
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by physical blockage (usually due to obesity), and
- Mixed sleep apnea, which is a blend of the two.
All three types share similar symptoms and can have the same effects on your life.
Because it pauses your breathing, severe and undetected cases of sleep apnea can be life-threatening. In most cases, sufferers experience problems getting a full night’s sleep or a good night’s sleep, which can lead to additional stress (and a host of physical and mental symptoms).
These are some of the most common and most noticeable symptoms associated with it:
- Noticeable interruptions in breathing: The most noticeable sign of sleep apnea is the hallmark of the condition: a noticeable interruption in breathing. You won’t be awake to notice this for yourself, but if you record yourself or have someone watch you, there may be significant pauses in your breathing pattern. If this happens intermittently, you almost certainly have sleep apnea.
- Snoring: Snoring by itself is not another indication, but the symptoms of both sleep apnea and snoring are caused by similar underlying root causes. If you know you snore frequently, you could be at higher risk.
- Fatigue: Sleep apnea interferes with your ability to sleep ordinarily. If you wake up feeling fatigued or have less energy than usual, it could be a sign that your sleep has been interrupted throughout the night.
- Waking up with headaches: Similarly, if you wake up with headaches—even after several hours of sleep—it could mean that sleep apnea has been preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
- Mood swings: Lack of consistent sleep has many effects on your cognitive abilities and emotions; after a few weeks of dealing with the condition, you may experience mood swings and emotional volatility.
- Obesity and high blood pressure: Obesity and high blood pressure often co-occur with sleep apnea. It doesn’t cause high blood pressure or obesity, and obesity and high blood pressure don’t necessarily cause sleep apnea, but these conditions are often clustered together because they share root causes and effects.
If you notice some or all of these signs on a recurring basis, it’s possible that you have sleep apnea. You should talk to your doctor about next steps for treatment.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Thankfully, it is a condition that’s treatable. There is no cure for the disorder, but there are many lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your symptoms (or possibly eliminate them entirely), as well as more serious, intensive medical treatments:
- Weight loss: The first line of treatment, especially for obstructive sleep apnea, is usually weight loss since a reduction of the blockage can often eliminate the breathing problem entirely.
- Lifestyle changes: Additionally, lifestyle changes may allow you to lose weight and sleep more consistently; eating healthier, exercising, and reducing intake of alcohol are right places to start.
- Dental devices: Some doctors may recommend that you use a dental device, which repositions the lower jaw and tongue, allowing for more consistent airflow while breathing.
- Airway pressure devices: A continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) uses a mask to gently blow air into the user’s airway to keep it open while they’re asleep. It’s a necessary device in extreme cases and is highly efficient.
- Surgery: If there’s an obstruction in your airway that lifestyle changes can’t remove, you may need surgery to remove it.
Sleep apnea can significantly interfere with your life, but it’s not untreatable. When you recognize that you have the disorder, you can take the steps necessary to eliminate it—or at least reduce the symptoms. Missing sleep might seem like a mere annoyance, but it can have a detrimental impact on your life. So address it as early as possible for best results.