Sleep is essential for everyone. It’s what allows the body and the mind to recharge at the end of every day. Without sufficient, healthy sleep, the brain and the body cannot function properly, so it’s important to recognize signs that you might not be getting quality sleep.
Nearly 70% of Americans who sleep with a bed partner report that their partner snores while sleeping, according to a 2021 survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Many don’t realize that a snore can be more than just a noisy nuisance. Snoring can be an indicator of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder that can be dangerous to your health when left untreated.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Nearly 30 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea, which repeatedly causes breathing disruptions during sleep. Currently, there are about 23.5 million obstructive sleep apnea cases that are undiagnosed.
With OSA, the airway repeatedly becomes entirely or partially blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches the lungs. When this happens, patients may snore or make choking noises. The brain and body experience severe decreases in oxygen flow, causing multiple arousals from sleep during the night. In more severe cases, these arousals can occur several hundred times a night. Individuals may be completely unaware of experiencing these episodes while sleeping.
“While not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, snoring is a warning sign that should be taken seriously,” said AASM President Dr. Kannan Ramar. “If your bed partner snores, or if you’ve been told that you snore, then it is important to talk to a medical provider about screening or testing for sleep apnea. Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea can improve overall health and quality of life.”
Snoring is just one of the symptoms
In the same survey, a quarter of Americans admitted they were not familiar with OSA; nearly half acknowledged they do not know the symptoms of the disease.
The following are five warning signs to be aware of:
Snoring: Snoring between apneas is typically noticed by a bed partner.
Choking or gasping during sleep: When snoring is paired with choking, gasping or silent breathing pauses during sleep, it’s a reliable indicator of sleep apnea.
Fatigue or daytime sleepiness: Excessive daytime sleepiness often occurs because sleep apnea causes numerous arousals throughout the night, preventing your body from getting the high-quality sleep it needs.
Obesity: An adult with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese and the risk of sleep apnea increases with the amount of excess body weight.
High blood pressure: Between 30 and 40 percent of adults with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea.
Other common symptoms of OSA include:
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Morning headaches
- Nocturia (waking during the night to go to the bathroom)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Decreased sexual desire
- Difficulty staying awake, particularly when watching TV or driving
“Delaying treatment for sleep apnea can lead to more serious health problems,” added Ramar. “Fortunately, many of the damaging effects of sleep apnea can be stopped, and even reversed, through diagnosis and treatment by the sleep team at an accredited sleep center, where patients receive care in safe and comfortable accommodations.”
Treating sleep apnea improves quality of life
Sleep apnea is typically treated using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This therapy keeps the airway open during the night by providing a gentle air stream through a mask worn while sleeping. Using CPAP can improve your overall quality of life by enhancing sleep quality and boosting daytime alertness, concentration and mood. It can also decrease medical expenses and improve both your brain and your heart health. Alternative treatments include positional therapy, oral appliance therapy and surgery.