Do I Have Symptoms and Signs of Snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Witnessed Pauses in Breathing, Gasping, Headaches, and Sleepiness May Occur

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may include snoring, gasping, choking, sleepiness, teeth grinding, waking to urinate, headaches, memory and mood problems
The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may include snoring, gasping, choking, sleepiness, teeth grinding, waking to urinate, headaches, memory and mood problems. Getty Images

Sleep apnea is a common condition that disrupts breathing during sleep, often leading to witnessed pauses and gasping or choking. It may often overlap with snoring, but it also has unique findings. What are some of the symptoms and signs of obstructive sleep apnea? Is it possible to have sleep apnea without having snoring? Consider if some of the daytime problems you may be having—such as morning headaches, memory problems, and sleepiness with naps—may be due to sleep apnea.

Understanding Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Snoring occurs when disrupted airflow leads to the vibration of the tissues that line the throat during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway (often the tissues surrounding the throat, including the soft palate and base of tongue) partially or completely collapse and block the ability to breathe. Effort continues, but air is not moving through the nose and mouth through the throat. This leads to a drop in the blood oxygen levels and a sudden awakening from sleep as normal breathing resumes. 

In order to better understand obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and some of the symptoms that may occur, let’s explore an excerpt from UpToDate—a trusted electronic medical reference used by healthcare providers and patients alike. Then, continue reading below about what this information may mean for you.

"The main symptoms of OSA are loud snoring, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. However, some people have no symptoms. For example, if the person does not have a bed partner, he or she may not be aware of the snoring. Fatigue and sleepiness have many causes and are often attributed to overwork and increasing age. As a result, a person may be slow to recognize that they have a problem. A bed partner or spouse often prompts the patient to seek medical care. Other symptoms may include one or more of the following:
  • Restless sleep
  • Awakening with choking, gasping or smothering
  • Morning headaches, dry mouth or sore throat
  • Waking frequently to urinate
  • Awakening unrested, groggy
  • Memory impairment, difficulty concentrating, low energy"

Additional Details on the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea relate to the disruption of breathing during sleep. This might be observed as loud snoring, choking, or pauses in breathing. The person who experiences these symptoms may be unaware of what is going on. This may make it difficult to recognize the condition!

Some people remember gasping or feeling like they can’t breathe. If you do not wake completely, however, you may not remember anything.

It is important to recognize that you can still have sleep apnea without snoring. Moreover, someone may lie right next to you and may not notice the subtle changes in breathing that are associated with more mild sleep apnea. The only way to identify these issues is with a sleep test.

This disrupted breathing of sleep apnea leads to shifts from deep to lighter stages of sleep. This results in restless sleep that is not as refreshing. Many people with sleep apnea have decreased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the sleep is lighter, you might be more aware of your bladder and you may frequently get up to use the bathroom (nocturia). This can also occur due to sleep apnea itself, as it places a strain on the heart that results in increased urine production during the night.

When morning finally comes, people with sleep apnea feel like they slept terribly. If you are breathing through your mouth all night, it might feel dry or your throat may be sore in the morning. Some people also complain of morning headaches, due to retention of carbon dioxide during sleep.

These headaches often fade in the first hours of the day as normal breathing resumes. There is also some evidence that sleep apnea is linked to teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) during sleep.

During the day, many people with sleep apnea have problems with excessive daytime sleepiness. They are more likely to fall asleep during meetings, at the movies, or even while driving their cars. Prolonged naps may occur and be unrefreshing. In addition, the sleep deprivation may also lead to poor concentration, memory dysfunction, and mood problems. In particular, depression is strongly linked to sleep apnea.

Serious Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Aside from these symptoms, there are serious consequences of untreated sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can contribute to uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, stroke, and sudden death. For all of these reasons, it is important to seek an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

A Word from Verywell

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, you should speak with your doctor about getting an appropriate evaluation. A referral to a board-certified sleep physician will include a thorough assessment of your symptoms and likely a diagnostic sleep study. If the study reveals that you have sleep apnea, treatment may provide the relief that you need to improve your health and well-being. 

If you have a suspicion that you may have some symptoms linked to untreated sleep apnea, reach out and get the help that you need. You will be glad that you did.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Sleep apnea in adults," for additional in-depth medical information.

Source:

Schmidt-Nowara, Wolfgang. "Sleep apnea in adults." UpToDate.

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