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Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Disrupted Nighttime Breathing, Morning Headaches, and Excessive Sleepiness Occur

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Updated March 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Sleep apnea is a common condition that disrupts breathing during sleep. What are some of the symptoms of sleep apnea? Is it possible that some of the daytime problems you are having are due to sleep apnea?

In order to better understand sleep apnea and some of the symptoms that may occur, let’s explore an excerpt from UpToDate - a trusted electronic medical reference used by healthcare providers and patients alike. Then, continue reading below about what this information may mean for you.

"The main symptoms of OSA are loud snoring, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. However, some people have no symptoms. For example, if the person does not have a bed partner, he or she may not be aware of the snoring. Fatigue and sleepiness have many causes and are often attributed to overwork and increasing age. As a result, a person may be slow to recognize that they have a problem. A bed partner or spouse often prompts the patient to seek medical care. Other symptoms may include one or more of the following:
  • Restless sleep
  • Awakening with choking, gasping or smothering
  • Morning headaches, dry mouth or sore throat
  • Waking frequently to urinate
  • Awakening unrested, groggy
  • Memory impairment, difficulty concentrating, low energy"

The most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea relate to the disruption of breathing during sleep. This might be observed as loud snoring, choking or pauses in breathing. The person who experiences these symptoms may be unaware of what is going on. Some people remember gasping or feeling like they can’t breathe. If you do not wake completely, however, you may not remember anything.

This disrupted breathing leads to shifts from deep to lighter stages of sleep. This results in restless sleep that is not as refreshing. Many people with sleep apnea have decreased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the sleep is lighter, you might be more aware of your bladder and you may frequently get up to use the bathroom (nocturia).

When morning finally comes, people with sleep apnea feel like they slept terribly. If you are breathing through your mouth all night, it might feel dry or your throat may be sore in the morning. Some people also complain of morning headaches.

During the day, many people with sleep apnea have problems with excessive daytime sleepiness. They are more likely to fall asleep during meetings, at the movies or even while driving their cars. In addition, the sleep deprivation may also lead to poor concentration, memory dysfunction and mood problems.

Aside from these symptoms, there are serious consequences of untreated sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can contribute to uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, stroke and sudden death. For all of these reasons, it is important to seek an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, you should speak with your doctor about getting an appropriate evaluation. You will be glad that you did.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Sleep apnea in adults," for additional in-depth medical information.

Source:

Schmidt-Nowara, Wolfgang. "Sleep apnea in adults." UpToDate. Accessed: February 2012.

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