Sleep Apnea Symptoms, Signs and What to do About Them

Woman Asleep

In the United States alone, 20 million people suffer with sleep apnea symptoms. Worldwide, sleep apnea occurs in both sexes, though it is more common in men, plus menopausal and postmenopausal women. It is mostly seen in people over the age of fifty but can affect those of all ages. If you suffer with sleep apnea, it can unfortunately be the cause of some serious health problems...

Let’s take a look at the treatments, types, symptoms and signs of sleep apnea:

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea (sometimes written as sleep apnoea syndrome) is a type of sleep disorder. If you suffer from sleep apnea, your breathing will repeatedly start and stop during the night. It is potentially very serious and can lead to various complications. And because you can’t get a good night's sleep, you are always tired.

Are there different types of sleep apnoea syndrome?

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

  • 1. Obstructive sleep apnea: occurs when your throat muscles relax. This is the most common form of the condition.
  • 2. Central sleep apnea: happens when your muscles which control breathing do not receive the correct signals from your brain. This is a much rarer form.
  • 3. Complex sleep apnea: is a combination of the two above and is sometimes called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.
Man asleep

Sleep apnea – symptoms and signs

The main symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring (although many people snore without it necessarily being related to this condition)
  • Restless sleep, insomnia or regularly waking up during the night
  • Waking up tired
  • Lack of energy or tiredness throughout the day
  • Waking up with a dry or sore throat
  • Occasional waking up gasping for air or choking
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory impairment, mood swings or irritability

What causes sleep apnea?

The causes of sleep apnea vary depending on which type of the condition you have:

1) Obstructive sleep apnea

The muscles in the back of your throat are designed to support the soft palate, the uvula (the tissue which hangs down from your soft palate), the tonsils, the walls of your throat, and your tongue.

When these muscles relax, your airway becomes much narrower. In some cases, your airway can close altogether which greatly impedes your breathing and causes the oxygen levels in your blood to reduce.

Your brain's automatic response to this reduced breathing is to quickly wake you up, so you can engage the muscles of your throat and start to breathe properly again. This period of waking may be so brief that you do not remember it has occurred by the morning.

But with the potential for this to happen between five and thirty times every hour, you will really struggle to get a proper night's rest!

2) Central sleep apnea

The muscles that control the way you breathe rely on signals that are sent from your brain. When this doesn't occur, you simply don't breathe.

This type of the condition is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. If you suffer with central sleep apnea, you may notice that you wake up short of breath, experience restless sleep, or insomnia.

Woman asleep

How to diagnose sleep apnea

If you begin to notice that you are developing signs of sleep apnea, it is time to visit your doctor. In fact, this is a sensible idea if you suspect you may be suffering with any disorder of your sleep. Sleep plays such an important role in our health that anything impeding it (whether sleep apnea, stress or something else), requires accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as possible.

There are several ways to diagnose sleep apnea and other sleeping conditions which may be affecting you:

  • Polysomnogram (sleep study): your doctor might recommend a sleep study in a special laboratory or hospital, where monitoring devices will be used to record the way you sleep. Your doctor will then be able to analyse your sleep patterns.
  • Home sleep study: advances in modern technology have now made it possible to perform a sleep study in your home. This is particularly useful if your doctor suspects your sleep disorder may be straightforward to detect and diagnose.
  • EEG (ElectroEncephaloGram): records your brainwave activity to help determine how this may be affecting your sleep patterns.
  • EMG (ElectroMyoGram): records your muscle activity to measure whether you are achieving REM sleep.
  • EOG (ElectroOculoGram): records your eye movements to measure different sleep phases, and particularly whether you achieve REM sleep.
  • ECG (ElectroCardioGram): records your heart rate and rhythm.


  • Snore microphone: records your snoring patterns.
  • Nasal airflow monitor: records your breathing patterns.

Is sleep apnea dangerous?

It certainly can be as sleep deprivation alone is harmful to your health. In the case of sleep apnea, this can cause or can eventually lead to the following health complications:

  • Relatively mild but unpleasant symptoms such as headaches
  • Worsening of symptoms related to conditions such as ADHD
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Strokes and heart attacks
  • Irregular heartbeat and heart failure

As well as the risks to your health, the condition can lead to you struggling to perform well at school or during your working life. In some cases it can be particularly dangerous, such as when operating heavy machinery or driving a car.

Can you die from sleep apnea?

Those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea do have a greater risk of sudden heart failure if the condition is left untreated.

Is sleep apnea hereditary?

The condition is thought to derive from a combination of genetic, health and lifestyle factors. For example, you are much more likely to develop sleep apnea if you are overweight, drink a lot of alcohol, or are a smoker. Cutting these risk factors out of your life will have a positive affect on your health in general, and on sleep apnea in particular.

Is sleep apnea a disability?

You should discuss this with your doctor after diagnosis. In the UK, for instance, the condition is not viewed as a disability. A simple breathing device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airwave Pressure) machine is enough to help almost all sufferers regain a full and complete quality of life. CPAP masks are currently available for free on the NHS.

How to get more sleep

If you experience some of the signs of sleep apnea but your doctor has told you that you do not suffer from the condition, you may need to take other measures to improve the quality of your sleep. This may mean reducing your stress levels, improving your overall health and fitness, or monitoring the quality of your sleep with one of the many apps and related devices that are easily available today.

Whichever combination you choose, the important thing is to act. The quality of sleep that you get can have a huge impact on your quality of life.

Henry Warren I am a professional writer and health & wellness enthusiast.