It is hard to tell if someone has sleep apnea simply by reviewing symptoms. A firm diagnosis can be made only after a patient undergoes an overnight sleep study, in which his or her breathing is monitored. If you have symptoms that might indicate apnea, discuss them with your health care provider, who may send you to an otolaryngologist, a specialist in the systems of the ears, nose and throat.
Warning signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Frequent silences during sleep due to breaks in breathing.
- Choking or gasping during sleep to get air into the lungs.
- Loud snoring. Almost all people who have sleep apnea snore, but not all people who snore have sleep apnea.
- Sudden awakenings to restart breathing or waking up in a sweat.
- Daytime sleepiness and feeling unrefreshed by a night’s sleep.
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times such as while you are eating, talking, or driving.
- Having problems with memory and concentration, feeling tired, and experiencing personality changes.
- Morning or night headaches. About half of all people with sleep apnea report headaches.
- Heartburn or a sour taste in the mouth at night.
- Swelling of the legs if you are obese.
- Getting up during the night to urinate.
- Sweating and chest pain while you are sleeping.
- Restless tossing and turning during sleep.
One of the most common signs of sleep apnea is loud and chronic snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring. Choking or gasping may follow the pauses.
The snoring usually is loudest when you sleep on your back; it may be less noisy when you turn on your side. Snoring may not happen every night. Over time, the snoring may happen more often and get louder.
You are asleep when the snoring or gasping occurs. You will likely not know that you are having problems breathing or be able to judge how severe the problem is. Your family members or bed partner will often notice these problems before you do.
Another common sign of sleep apnea is fighting sleepiness during the day, at work, or while driving. Since the brain is unable to get REM sleep in people with sleep apnea, they remain tired throughout the day. Excessive daytime sleepiness is one of the most common symptoms of the condition. You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you are not active.
If you have been forgetting things often, or have difficulty focusing on the tasks at hand, this could be a symptom of sleep apnea.
In children, sleep apnea can cause hyperactivity, poor school performance, and aggressiveness. Children who have sleep apnea also may have unusual sleeping positions, bedwetting, and may breathe through their mouths instead of their noses during the day. Many have short attention spans and behavior problems.
Although snoring is a common symptom in children with sleep apnea, it is important to remember that between 10 to 20 percent of normal children snore on a regular or intermittent basis.