Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop multiple times every night. Some people with this condition stop breathing hundreds of times every night, and the interruptions can last for up to 20 seconds. This occurs because the airway becomes blocked, usually by the soft tissue collapsing over the back of the throat.
When you stop breathing, even for just a few seconds, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. If this happens frequently every single night, your body could be seriously deprived of oxygen, which can have big health consequences. Conditions that can occur as a result of this sleep disorder include high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart failure.
Because you only stop breathing while you sleep, it can be hard to tell whether you have this disorder. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disorder, so you can have it diagnosed and treated before it takes a serious toll on your health. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
Although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, most people with the sleep disorder snore. Snoring occurs when the soft palate and uvula partially collapse over the airway and vibrate against the back of the mouth and throat. Many people with the sleep disorder will snore while the airway is partially blocked, then stop breathing once it becomes fully blocked. If you’ve heard complaints that you snore loudly most nights, you may have this sleep disorder.
The primary sign of the disorder is a cessation of breathing during sleep. You won’t be able to notice this yourself, but your partner may hear or see your breathing stop temporarily. If you think you might have this sleep disorder, ask your partner to check while you sleep for pauses in your breathing.
Waking Up Abruptly
You might wake up briefly after an episode of breathing cessation and fall back asleep again quickly. Many people don’t remember ever waking up, but some notice that they occasionally wake up suddenly and feel short of breath. Because you go for several seconds without air when your airway is obstructed, shortness of breath upon waking is a major sign of this sleep disorder.
Sore Throat Upon Waking
The snoring that accompanies this disorder can cause a sore throat because the vibrations irritate the tissue. Many people with the disorder also sleep with their mouths open, which can quickly dry out the mouth and throat.
Because the disorder causes you to wake up so often throughout the night, most people are completely exhausted during the day. Even if you think you’ve gotten a full night of sleep, you may not have gotten any deep sleep. Excessive tiredness causes lots of other symptoms, too, like irritability, headaches, trouble concentrating, and memory loss.
If you experience these symptoms, you should visit your doctor right away to find out whether you have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed with a sleep study and can be treated with a CPAP machine, which provides enough pressure to keep your airway open all night.