Sleep apnea is a very commonly seen sleep disorder which affects over twelve million Americans and nowadays is as commonplace as adult diabetes.
The most commonly seen form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea which, as its name suggests, is caused by an obstruction to the airways which produces difficulties with breathing. Additionally, there is another form of sleep apnea known as central sleep apnea, in which the brain is unable to control breathing adequately during sleep. Some people suffer from mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of both obstructive and central forms of the condition.
Sleep apnea symptoms can arise at any time and, while they are most frequently found in overweight men over the age of 40, they can be seen in both men and women at any age and are being seen more and more nowadays in children.
The most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea is snoring which is unfortunately a difficult symptom to spot yourself and usually needs to be pointed out by a sleeping partner. There can be many reasons for snoring and the presence of snoring is not in itself an indication that you are suffering from sleep apnea. The majority of sleep apnea sufferers do snore.
The second most noticeable symptom is abnormal daytime tiredness. With sleep apnea you stop breathing regularly throughout the night and the body’s natural reaction to this is to wake you just sufficiently for you to start breathing again, but not sufficiently so that you are aware that you are being awakened. The result is that your sleep is extremely light and often interrupted and you do not enjoy the deep sleep which the body needs to recharge its batteries. As a consequence, over time, you find that you are getting ever more tired and sleepy during the day.
If sleep apnea is left untreated its affects will begin to become increasingly evident and further symptoms will start to appear. These may include headaches (especially first thing in the morning), touchiness and perhaps depression. You might also find that you are beginning to put on weight.
A less obvious symptom of sleep apnea is a rise in blood pressure which can lead to several cardiovascular difficulties. This will be picked up if you are one of the growing number of people who now monitor their blood pressure at home but will not otherwise be detected until you call in for a routine physical exam with your doctor.
Yet another symptom is that of learning difficulties and problems with memory. Again this is not easy to spot yourself but family and friends could well notice that you are not as fast on the uptake as you used to be.
A number of sleep apnea sufferers will experience a decline in sexual function and this can result in impotency.
As is the case with with the majority of conditions individual symptoms by themselves could be a sign of practically anything. However, if you start to notice these symptoms coming together then you should consider consulting your doctor and possibly think about being tested for sleep apnea.
One word of caution. Sleep apnea testing will normally mean referral to a sleep specialist, preferably a specialist who is certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM), and might involve being subjected to overnight sleep testing either in a special sleep laboratory or at home. This testing can often cost upwards of $1,000 and you may need to check with your insurance company before committing yourself to a program of sleep apnea evaluation.