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.
Even 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.
Sleep 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.
Serious Consequences of Sleep Apnea
Most 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.
According 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 — as often as 30 times, or more, an hour.
“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.
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms
Not 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.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Loud and chronic snoring — sometimes with pauses.
- Choking or gasping following pauses
- Feeling tired or sleepy, even after sleeping all night
- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
- Daytime sleepiness, or lack of energy
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep, waking up during the night, or insomnia
- Trouble concentrating or problems with learning and memory
- Depression and irritability
- Sexual dysfunction
Consult 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.