What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

Learn the symptoms and warning signs of sleep apnea.

Man has trouble sleeping because of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that can lead to ongoing health problems. However, many people don’t realize they have this disorder because they aren’t aware of their actions and behaviors while they sleep.

What is sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea, otherwise known simply as sleep apnea, is a sleep disorder that causes your airway to collapse or become blocked while you sleep. If you suffer from this disorder, you could stop breathing for up to 10 seconds at a time, multiple times per night.

Untreated sleep apnea is concerning because it can lead to other health problems such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Certain headache syndromes are also linked to untreated sleep apnea.

Warning signs of sleep apnea

Although it’s hard to know what you’re doing when you’re sleeping, certain warning signs can indicate that you suffer from sleep apnea and need to seek treatment. One of the most common signs of untreated sleep apnea is feeling exhausted during the day, even when you’ve gone to bed at a time that should have afforded you enough sleep to feel rested.

The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If you’re consistently getting that much sleep but still feel tired, you may not be getting good quality sleep, and sleep apnea could be to blame.

Related: 5 Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep

Another warning sign is loud snoring. However, please note that snoring may be caused by a condition other than sleep apnea. Other warning signs include choking or gasping for air upon waking, headaches upon waking, a sore throat or dry mouth when waking, trouble concentrating, and excessive nighttime sweating.

Those who share their bed or bedroom with someone else might be able to learn more about their sleep behaviors. A partner may notice that you stop breathing during the night or snore loudly, even if you’re not aware of these habits.

Sleep apnea risk factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea. The presence of certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypothyroidism, have all been linked to an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

People with narrow airways or enlarged tonsils or adenoids may suffer the effects of it. If you smoke, you’re more likely to develop this condition as well.

Treating sleep apnea

Before treating sleep apnea, your healthcare provider may schedule a sleep apnea test, also known as a polysomnogram. This test may be done at a hospital, in a sleep disorder clinic, or at home, depending on where you live.

The test electronically records physical activities that occur while you sleep. The recordings are then analyzed to determine what may be causing your disrupted sleep.

This data will include how long you spend in each stage of the sleep cycle, whether you stop breathing or have trouble breathing in the night, how frequently you awaken, and whether you snore.

If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, the severity of your case will determine the course of treatment. Many people can treat it by making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, changing their sleep positions, and avoiding the use of sleeping pills and alcohol.

In more severe cases, a sleep specialist will prescribe a machine that provides a flow of oxygen to your nose. The most common treatment machine for sleep apnea is known as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers a constant flow of air into the nose.

Another option is a bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine, which adjusts the airflow as you breathe in and out. Surgical intervention may be necessary if you have a medical condition that causes a narrow airway, such as enlarged tonsils, a deviated nasal septum, or an overbite due to a smaller lower jaw.

If you have trouble sleeping or feel exhausted during the day, sleep apnea could be to blame. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to find out what may be causing your sleep troubles. With the right treatment, you can improve your quality of sleep and get the rest you need.

Related: What’s Really Keeping You Up at Night?

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