Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is an often-serious condition that can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and stroke if left untreated. It is characterized by repeated and brief bouts of cessation of breathing while sleeping. The next day, the symptoms often are headache and fatigue and generally feeling like you haven’t slept or need to sleep more.
Since the OSA sufferer doesn’t always realize that he or she is gasping for breath while sleeping, it’s hard to tell by oneself if the symptoms are there. It’s easier if a spouse or partner can point out the symptoms and difficulties. What are the telltale signs? These:
- Loud, persistent snoring
- Pauses in breathing, accompanied with gasping episodes when sleeping
- Excessive sleepiness during waking hours
If you snore loudly and a lot, is that a sign? Not necessarily, but it could be a problem in and of itself. “Most people who snore don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, but most people who have apnea snore,” says Robert L. Owens, MD, of the Sleep Disorders Research Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. If you have chronic snoring that is loud enough to wake a bed partner, however, talk to your doctor. That also can be a big problem for you and your partner.
It’s sleep apnea that’s often the bigger concern than snoring, though snoring itself can be destructive of good sleep and rejuvenation. OSA can cause the sufferer to gasp for breath hundreds of times a night. Dr. Owens says that often it’s the spouse or partnert who will come in with cell phone videos of his or her bedmate gasping at night that leads to a sleep evaluation.
If there’s no one with you to catch your gasping or snoring on camera, the only signs of sleep apnea you may notice are morning headaches or extreme sleepiness during the day, says Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill.
Which gets us to the ultimate point: The only real test for OSA is a sleep study, often conducted in a sleep lab but also sometimes conducted at home with portable monitoring machines.
As we’ve often said, don’t shrug off daytime sleepiness as “normal.” It shouldn’t be normal. Your sleep should rejuvenate you and make you ready for the day. If it isn’t, you really need to seek professional help at places like The Snoring Center. Be proactive and seek help today.