Signs of Sleep Apnea and the Need to Address It
Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects as many as 22 million people in the United States alone. These cases range from mild to severe obstruction, with about 80% falling well into the “moderate to severe” category. It’s a disorder characterized by sleep interruptions that can number from five to fifty a night. They mostly involve a blockage of the airways that can occur when the muscles of the throat and tongue relax during sleep. Overly large tonsils that press down on the airway and narrow it when one lays down at night can also cause sleep apnea. It is most frequently caused by sleeping on one’s back, having alcohol or certain medicines before bed, and, more commonly, if someone is overweight.
Determining if Sleep Apnea Is the Problem
Having sleep apnea can lead to other health issues, such as diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, irregular or abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke. Sleep apnea can be a potentially fatal disorder, so, if people suspect they may be afflicted with it, they should consult their physician as soon as possible and try to get into a sleep study to gauge how often they stop breathing and how little air their lungs receive during the course of a night. If they experience any of the below symptoms, they may be living (or sleeping, as the case may be) with obstructive sleep apnea.
The signs of sleep apnea are:
- Inexplicable waking headache: The likelihood of having sleep apnea is greater if a person wakes up with a headache or already suffers from cluster headaches or migraines. These are caused due to low oxygen levels; the blood vessels vasodilate, causing intracranial pressure that leads to headaches.
- Night sweats: When the body is asleep, it is thrown into the fight-or-flight mode as it tries to get oxygen through the obstructed airways. If a person wakes up drenched in sweat, it could be due to sleep apnea.
- Frequent nighttime bathroom use: Stress hormones are released when the body receives less oxygen due to breathing difficulties. This causes elevated levels of glucose and insulin, which the body tries to get rid of in the form of urine. Consequently, a person may wake up more often during the night to visit the restroom.
- Excess snoring: The benchmark symptom for sleep apnea is snoring. A person who snores tends to keep their mouth open and will thus experience dry mouth, sticky-feeling teeth, and a sore throat upon waking up in the morning.
- Mood alterations: People with sleep apnea may become irritated and snappish during the daytime. They may also have concentration problems, or even fall into a depression or develop anxiety if the disorder is not treated. This can cause changes in perception, personality, loss of interest, and changes in concentration and hygiene. People with sleep apnea worry about their sleep because they want to have a productive day, and this can cause anxiety, leading to the perpetuation of a sleepless nighttime cycle and insomnia. Since they have problems concentrating, certain tasks such as driving can become deadly.
- Loss of libido: A person may experience a loss of libido if they suffer from sleep apnea. Participating in vigorous activities like sex can be difficult since the person is constantly tired.
- Diabetes: Blood glucose levels may rise due to lack of sleep. Also, one’s insulin resistance and glucose intolerance may both increase because of sleep apnea, which can cause diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is often developed by pre-diabetic patients who have sleep apnea.
What to Do if Sleep Apnea Is Suspected
Snoring and being overweight may point to sleep apnea. This disorder can be accurately diagnosed by a physician. The doctor will ask the patient a series of questions, then a number of treatments may be suggested based on the answers. The easiest way to determine the severity of one’s sleep apnea is through a sleep study. The disorder may appear to be fairly benign, but if it is left untreated, it can cause diabetes and may even lead to death. So, if sleep apnea is suspected, the individual should consult their physician right away.