Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that is marked by pauses in breathing while a person is asleep. And while the most common signs of sleep apnea – like snoring and waking abruptly during the night – are well-known, you may be surprised to learn that there are some lesser-known signs of the condition. In fact, as many as 8 out of 10 people with sleep apnea may not even be aware they have it.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing while a person is asleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to several minutes and may occur several times throughout the night. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles and tissues in the throat relax to the point of blocking the airway. This causes the person to wake abruptly from sleep in an attempt to catch their breath.
What are the Common Signs of Sleep Apnea?
There are several signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with sleep apnea. The most common sign is loud snoring, followed by long pauses in breathing or choking sounds during sleep. Other common signs of sleep apnea may include waking up feeling groggy or unrefreshed, and morning headaches. People with sleep apnea may also experience difficulty staying asleep or frequent awakenings during the night, as well as excessive tiredness or daytime sleepiness even if they’ve had what they think is enough sleep.
Lesser-Known Signs of Sleep Apnea
It may be surprising to learn that there are several lesser-known signs of sleep apnea that you should be aware of as well. These less obvious signs and symptoms of sleep apnea may include feeling irritable or having mood swings, as well as a decreased sex drive or impotence. Memory problems and trouble concentrating or making decisions are also common in people who have sleep apnea.
In addition, sleep apnea may also make it difficult for a person to breathe through their nose. As a result, people with sleep apnea often breathe through their mouth when they are awake and asleep. This can cause chronic dry mouth, halitosis (bad breath) and sore throat in the morning. In addition, it might lead to a decreased sense of taste or smell.
Another lesser-known sign of sleep apnea is bruxism, which is the chronic grinding of teeth during sleep. The stress that comes from the interrupted breathing and the overall sleep disturbance can lead to involuntary teeth grinding.
And, finally, sleep apnea may cause frequent urinary incontinence – or the involuntary release of urine – during the night. This can happen because of the increased pressure on the diaphragm from the throat muscles relaxing during an apnea episode. When a person lies down to sleep, the increased pressure can lead to a decrease in the amount of urine a person can hold. This reduction in holding capacity, when combined with the increased frequency of waking, can lead to nocturnal enuresis – or bedwetting.
What Should You Do if You Suspect Sleep Apnea?
If you or someone you love experiences any of the common or lesser-known signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Untreated sleep apnea can significantly reduce the quality of life and put a person at greater risk for serious health complications.
There are a variety of treatments available for sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes, the use of oral devices, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The key to treating sleep apnea is receiving an accurate diagnosis and finding the right treatment approach for your unique situation.