Do I have sleep apnea?

Do I have sleep apnea?

Reading time: 6 minutes

What’s inside?

  • What is sleep apnea?
  • What key symptoms and clues should I be looking for?
  • How do I get assessed for sleep apnea?
  • So, what does it all mean?


Most of us with sleep apnea (or sleep apnoea) go undiagnosed for years, sometimes decades, before someone – usually a partner – gives us enough grief… sorry, encouragement… to go get that sleep assessment done.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can have a serious knock-on effect for other ailments.

So, if you are wondering if this could be you, perhaps these pointers may be enough to convince you to seek medical guidance…


What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a significant and potentially serious sleep disorder characterised by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, can lead to a cascade of health issues if left untreated. Recognizing the symptoms and clues of sleep apnea is crucial for timely diagnosis and management.


What key symptoms and clues should I be looking for?

  • Loud Snoring: Often the most noticeable sign, especially noticed by the grief-giving partner.

Snoring is a result of air struggling to pass through narrowed airways. In sleep apnea patients, this is caused by part of the airway collapsing on itself when relaxed. Although a larger neck-size can sometimes be a link, it isn’t a given. Many people with large necks don’t have sleep apnea and many of us – including me – with standard neck structure end-up gasping for air in the middle of the night.

  • Episodes of Breathing Pauses: And the gasping act brings us to this…

These are periods during sleep where breathing stops momentarily and are usually noticed by another person. Although that person is usually the person you share a bed with (and potentially a reason why sleep apnea diagnosis in children is poor) it isn’t always that way. If you travel on long-haul flights there’s every chance you’ll spot someone snoring. When that snoring becomes a complete stop the generous thing to do would be to quietly have a word with the person when they wake and let them know. Whether they do something about it is up to them, but at least you have done the humane thing and tried to help.

  • Gasping or Choking During Sleep: A reflex response to resume breathing after an apnea episode, potentially waking the individual.

We are survivors.

When our brain thinks we are lacking the basics of life… such as air to refresh our blood supply… then we have a handy in-built mechanism to combat this, although it ain’t pretty. If you wake-up gasping for air, it could be another sign the time has come to seek help.

  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS): And this is where it can get dangerous…

Whereas having sleep apnea can be damaging to you, falling asleep during the day could be seriously damaging to those around you. Feeling unusually tired or drowsy during the day, even after a full night's sleep, can indicate sleep apnea.

If you nod-off for a second or 2 when waiting at traffic lights, or find you’ve had a micro-dose when sitting on a motorway… you really need to seek that medical help.

Incidents where innocent bystanders are killed and injured are more common than you may think. Google ‘sleep apnea road deaths’ or ‘sleep apnoea road deaths’ (depending on where you are in the world) and you will probably be surprised at how common the problem is.

It isn’t only driving snoozes that count here though. If you find yourself dosing-off sitting in your office, or in meetings, it could be worth taking that as a clue.

  • Morning Headaches: Do you find yourself regularly waking-up with a headache?

If this happens frequently, it could be a sign your brain isn’t getting enough air. This can cause weird fluctuations in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. What’s the answer?... Yep, better safe than sorry… go get checked at the doctors.

  • Mood Changes: Now, this one is a bit like reading body language. It can’t be relied upon on it’s own.

Many of us are just grumpy sods. We may be just as grumpy without sleep apnea as with it.

But… if you find yourself regularly irritable, having mood-swings or bouts of depression it could be an indicator of chronic sleep disruption associated with sleep apnea. Ideally, linking this with some of the other potential symptoms listed here could give you a better understanding of reality.

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Where did I put the car keys… or… Why did I come upstairs again?

Memory issues and trouble focusing are often reported by individuals suffering from sleep apnea, related to the lack of restful sleep. As with mood-changes, this one is best  used as an indicator along with other potential clues.

  1. High Blood Pressure: When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked.

For most of us, the answer would likely be… ‘I don’t remember’. Or even… Never.

Sleep apnea can exacerbate or contribute to hypertension due to the stress of frequent night time awakenings and oxygen deprivation. So, if in doubt… go get that checkup.


How do I get assessed for sleep apnea?

Most Country’s healthcare systems have a function for assessing and treating sleep apnea. For some, it could mean getting onto a waiting list and staying there for what seems like forever. But, being on that list and… eventually… getting the assessment you deserve is better than the short-term suffering and long term risk of other ailments kicking-in.

If you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms, consulting with a healthcare provider is a sensible next step. They may recommend a sleep study, with a grown-up name of polysomnography, to monitor sleep stages, airflow, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and muscle activity during sleep. This study is the gold-standard and can be pivotal in both diagnosing sleep apnea & formulating an effective treatment plan.


So, what does it all mean?

Recognising the symptoms of sleep apnea is the first step toward getting the necessary help.

With proper treatment, such as CPAP therapy, lifestyle changes, or – in extreme cases – possibly surgery, most people can manage their sleep apnea effectively. Which, in turn, can lead to a significant improvement in quality of life.

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