Do I Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Do you awake up in the morning with a headache and feel just as tired as you did when you went to bed? Has your spouse moved to the another room or made you sleep on the couch, exhausted by listening to you snore, gasp, and choke every night?
If so, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) -- a chronic disease where the upper airway closes off, interrupting your breathing and depriving you of oxygen until you wake up and start breathing again. Sleep apnea is estimated to affect more than 18 million American adults, while some may argue that number is much much higher.
Sleep Apnea Signs: Snoring, Gasping, Sleepiness
3 key warning signs of obstructive sleep apnea are:
- Loud, persistent snoring
- Pauses in breathing, accompanied with gasping episodes when sleeping
- Excessive sleepiness during waking hours
Like snoring, the most definitive sign of sleep apnea -- waking up to breathe -- is often witnessed by a bed partner. People with sleep apnea frequently wake up unknowingly for a few seconds to gasp for air. For many sleep apnea sufferers this can happen hundreds of times a night.
Sleep specialists use the Epsworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) to measure daytime sleepiness. People with extreme sleep apnea are likely to doze off in situations where you would normally remain awake, like driving, sitting in church or reading. Moderate daytime sleepiness, such as the desire to take an afternoon nap, doesn’t necessarily mean you have obstructive sleep apnea.
Other Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Mouth Breathing and Frequent Nightly Urination
If you wake up in the morning with a very dry mouth, irritated throat and gummy front teeth, it may also be a sign of sleep apnea. People who have obstructive sleep apnea tend to sleep with their mouths open as the body's self defense mechanism to bring more air to the lungs. With treatment of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices – the gold standard for treating sleep apnea – patients more often then not keep their mouths closed during sleep.
A lesser known common symptom of sleep apnea is waking up frequently with a desire to urinate. When a person’s breathing is disrupted, it puts pressure on the heart. This, in turn, affects a hormone that normally controls urine production in the kidneys. Once sleep apnea is treated with CPAP, the frequent urination desire decreases signifigantly.
Other indicators of sleep apnea may be mood changes or irritability, depression, or problems concentrating. These are traits that show up in OSA patients but they aren’t particularly good diagnostic indicators.