The truth is, this happens a lot more frequently than you know. And the consequences can be dire.
Sleep Apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs.
The brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and you may wake up a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.
Most people think of snoring as a definite sign that someone has sleep apnea, but that’s not entirely true. According to Sleep Education, “the most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring is likely to be a sign of sleep apnea when it is followed by silent breathing pauses and choking or gasping sounds.”
Sleep Education also reports that “the major risk factor for sleep apnea is excess body weight. You are much more likely to have sleep apnea if you are overweight or obese. However, sleep apnea can occur in slim people too.”
Major warning signs of sleep apnea you should look out for:
1- Complete exhaustion during the day. Are you always tired, and fighting off the desire to lay down and give your body a break?
When your body stops breathing, your brain sends out a distress signal that forces you to wake up- even for a few seconds. You might not be aware of it happening. But waking up—even if it’s just for a few seconds—can disrupt your sleep cycles, leaving you more exhausted the next morning.
“Your brain has to be awake for a full 30 seconds in order to recognize that it’s actually awake,” says Michael Breus, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and SleepScore Labs advisory board member.
2- Extreme mood swings, and forgetfulness. Are you more irritable lately? A bit forgetful?
Mood changes and difficulty with memory and concentration stem from the sleep deprivation that comes along with sleep apnea, explains Dr. Breus.
This can negatively impact how well you remember small details, like where you parked your car, and also has an effect on how well you can focus on tasks. And, as you can imagine, a night of terrible sleep can leave you feeling pretty crabby or low, especially when it’s every night.
3- Headaches when you wake up. Do you wake up with a pounding headache?
“When you don’t breathe at night, you’re deprived of oxygen,” says Dr. Breus. “When you’re deprived of oxygen, your brain doesn’t like it, so you’ll have a pretty decent headache early in the morning.”
This isn’t a specific type of headache, but it usually goes away within an hour or two of awakening, as your brain gets the oxygen it needs after a night of struggling.
4- Waking with a dry mouth or scratchy throat. Struggling to swallow, or feeling like you have a desert in your mouth?
When you’re snoring with your mouth wide open, it’s not just your bed partner who can point it out—how your mouth feels in the morning can give you a clue, too.
“When you have that much air flow through the mouth, you don’t have as much saliva production, so your mouth has a tendency to get dried out,” explains Dr. Breus. This leaves you with dry mouth and throat first thing.
Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.
If you think you may be experiencing this, consult with your doctor. Your health is important.