Do you wake up feeling like a zombie? Do you have trouble keeping your eyes open at work or school, or even while driving? You might be one of the 12 million-plus Americans feeling the effects of a disorder known as sleep apnea.\nEven though you may be getting to bed at a reasonable hour and assuming you’re getting a normal night’s sleep, sleep apnea can subtly interrupt the quality of your sleep, making you feel tired and lethargic in the morning.\nSleep apnea has many other effects on the body, but this is certainly one of the most recognizable symptoms of a disorder you may not even be aware you have.\nSerious Consequences of Sleep Apnea\nMost people don’t know they have obstructive sleep apnea, usually caused when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses when sleeping, says Patrick J. Strollo, Jr., MD, medical director of the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center. That leads to a drop in oxygen levels, prompting the brain to send a surge of adrenalin signaling the person to wake and take a deep breath. That kick-start also leads to a spike in blood pressure.\nAccording to the National Institutes of Health, this common disorder causes breathing pauses while you sleep. These pauses can last a few seconds, or even minutes \u2014 as often as 30 times, or more, an hour.\n“It’s a burden on the cardiovascular system and affects the quality of your rest,” says Dr. Strollo. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems and even cause deadly accidents.\nSleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms\nNot everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but it is a major clue. Since sleep apnea only occurs during sleep, a family member or bed partner might be the first to notice.\nCommon signs and symptoms include:\n\nLoud and chronic snoring \u2014 sometimes with pauses.\nChoking or gasping following pauses\nFeeling tired or sleepy, even after sleeping all night\nWaking up with a very sore or dry throat\nDaytime sleepiness, or lack of energy\nMorning headaches\nRestless sleep, waking up during the night, or insomnia\nTrouble concentrating or problems with learning and memory\nDepression and irritability\nSexual dysfunction\n\nConsult your primary care physician or family doctor if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms. If left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious consequences on your waking life and your health. For more information, visit the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center online or call 412-692-2880.