What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
What is sleep apnea? It is a disease that can be potentially serious, one which is characterized by repeated episodes where you stop breathing during sleep. If you live alone, you may not realize that you have the disease, at least not as quickly as those who live with others. Clearly, another person may notice that you're not breathing during sleep and attempt to wake you.
However, there are clear symptoms that occur which may cause you to suspect that you suffer from it even if you sleep alone. Sleep apnea can affect your life in a number of ways, many of which will be discussed later on. For now, it's important to know that if left untreated, it can cause a whole host of other problems such as chronic high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of both heart attack and stroke. If you already have problems with your heart, sleep apnea can cause sudden cardiac death by triggering abnormal heart rhythms during sleep (1). Therefore, it's imperative that you are seen by a qualified medical professional if you have even the slightest idea that you could potentially be suffering from sleep apnea.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
Fortunately, those who see their doctor and are eventually diagnosed with it have a number of treatments that are available to them. While we don't necessarily recommend one treatment over the other, it is important to work with your doctor in order to find a treatment that works well for you. For some cases, the treatment is as simple as changing your lifestyle. Your doctor may tell you that you need to lose weight or stop smoking. In some cases, sleep apnea is caused by severe allergies (1).
In such cases, getting a handle on those allergies may be all that's required to solve the problem. If that isn't the case, your doctor may prescribe something known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP (1). It's a machine that you wear while you're sleeping that forces air into your lungs. This helps keep your airway open and helps to ensure that you keep breathing throughout the night. The problem with many CPAP machines is that they're not very comfortable and they can be quite loud. As a result, many people don't find them especially useful. If that's the case for you or if the CPAP treatment simply doesn't work, your doctor might then recommend surgery in order to fix the problem (1).
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Most people who suffer from sleep apnea snore constantly and loudly. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who have this disorder often wake themselves up snoring or they find their partner complaining about how hard it is to get to sleep because of the loud snoring that goes on all the time. If someone has complained to you or you have actually caused yourself to wake up because of your own snoring, it's important to read through this list and see if you have any other symptoms. If so, it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor.
You Wake Up Several Times During the Night
This is another telltale sign of sleep apnea. Granted, some people wake up several times a night because they suffer from insomnia that has nothing to do with sleep apnea. However, it is likely that you're waking up several times each night if you do suffer from this condition, largely because you can't breathe adequately. This may cause you to wake up without realizing what's actually happening. If you find that you don't have any problems getting to sleep initially, yet you wake up repeatedly during the night, it could be a sign that you suffer from sleep apnea.
Another sign that you could potentially have this disorder involves hypersomnia, or being extremely tired all day without any other reason for feeling that way (1). It's understandable to feel tired from time to time, especially if there's something that has kept you up during the night and you can readily identify what it is. That said, experiencing this day after day is not normal and may be the result of not getting the deep sleep and subsequent rest that you need during the night due to sleep apnea.
Why does sleep apnea make you wake up with a headache? When you suffer from the condition, repeated pauses in breathing cause your blood oxygen levels to drop to dangerously low levels. This in turn causes your heart rate to increase and your blood pressure to rise (1). Repeated bouts of this throughout the night can cause you to wake up with a headache from excessively high blood pressure. Furthermore, sleep apnea can cause blood pressure to remain high if it goes on long enough and isn't successfully treated. In addition, you're putting a great deal of strain on your heart and blood vessels due to the fact that your cardiovascular system has to work so hard to try and offset the problems caused by the dramatic drop in blood oxygen.
If you wake up every morning and your mouth feels like someone has stuffed it with cotton, this could be a sign that you've been struggling for breath while you were asleep. When you can't get enough air, you start to breathe through your mouth and if you're struggling to breathe multiple times throughout the night, you've likely been breathing through your mouth for quite some time. This often makes you feel like your mouth is extremely dry when you wake up. You may also find that it chokes you when you try to swallow because your throat is so dry. If you're waking up like this every morning and you can't find any other reason for it, it could be due to sleep apnea and it's something that should be checked out as quickly as possible.
You Have Problems Concentrating
It's normal to have problems concentrating from time to time, especially if you have a lot on your plate or if you have other conditions such as ADHD. However, it can be a different story when you have traditionally been a person that could easily focus on the task at hand without much effort and all of a sudden, you find that you just can't concentrate on anything for very long. The types of problems concentrating associated with sleep apnea often go far beyond merely daydreaming or not being as interested in the task at hand, especially if the task in question is a tedious one. You may start to forget where you put your car keys or you don't remember that you need to be at a certain place at a certain time. Eventually, you may find that it's extremely difficult to perform the types of mental tasks that people do on a daily basis without even noticing.
Changes in Mood
People that suffer from sleep apnea often experience rather dramatic changes in mood. You may become excessively emotional when you haven't traditionally been an emotional person. The lack of sleep that you're experiencing as the direct result of sleep apnea may cause you to become irritable (1). Things that you have always sailed through in the past may now frustrate you and irritate you to the point of breaking down. If you've always had a relatively stable mood and now you find yourself struggling, it's time to find out why. Sleep apnea may be the culprit.
As you can see, sleep apnea comes with a multitude of symptoms. You may experience the majority of these symptoms or you may only have one or two. Regardless, it's much better to get it checked out and find out if you are suffering from the condition than it is to simply ignore it, as this will only cause additional health problems in the future. In addition, the repeated lack of sleep and drop in oxygen levels can do a real number on your mental health as well. Even if your sleep apnea is severe, there are treatments available that can potentially help. On the flip side, you may be able to correct the problem before you need the more invasive treatments if you have a relatively mild condition. It all comes down to recognizing the symptoms and then making the choice to do something about it as opposed to hoping the problems will merely go away on their own. Sleep apnea is not something that will just go away. If not treated, it will likely get worse. As previously mentioned, it has the capacity to cause other very serious health problems. In a worst-case scenario, it can even be fatal. Therefore, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get a diagnosis if you have any of the symptoms listed.