Every night, hundreds of Irish people go to bed and drift into an evening of sleep that is anything but peaceful. They snore and gasp for air throughout the night, causing chronic sleepiness and increasing their risk of heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. This condition, known as sleep apnea, affects an estimation of  millions of people worldwide. Yet most people who have it never get it diagnosed. They suffer night after night and jeopardise their health. Here’s what you need to know about sleep apnea.

Are You Suffering From Sleep Apnea?

It can manifest itself in different ways. But some of the hallmarks of sleep apnea are easy to spot.

Because sleep apnea occurs when you’re unconscious, so many people who have it are not even aware of it. So how do you know if you’re one of them? The American Sleep Apnea Association developed a brief quiz that can give you some insight. If you answer yes to any of these questions then you might have sleep apnea.

  • Are you a loud or regular snorer?
  • Have you ever been observed to gasp or stop breathing during sleep?
  • Do you feel tired or groggy when you wake up? Do you wake up with a headache?
  • Are you often tired or fatigued during the day?
  • Do you fall asleep while sitting, reading, watching television or driving?
  • Do you often have problems concentrating or remembering things?

A History of Snoring: A lot of people snore, and the fact is that not every snorer has sleep apnea. Some people only snore once in a while, like after they’ve had a few beers or a glass of wine or two. That’s not exactly abnormal. But most people who have sleep apnea do snore. So it tends to be a marker of the condition. There are a few things that can distinguish normal snoring from pathological snoring: The intensity, loudness and frequency of it. If you snore once in a while then it probably is not a sign of a health issue. But if you snore loudly every night then the likelihood of it being sleep apnea is much greater. Some doctors call the snoring associated with sleep apnea “destructive snoring” because of its ear-rattling noisiness.

Daytime Sleepiness: If you have to drink several cups of coffee just to get through the day then you might have sleep apnea. People who have it frequently fall asleep at the wrong time and place – while driving or while working for example – because they are constantly woken up in the middle of the night by their disrupted breathing.

Witness Apnea: Some people who have sleep apnea only learn about it from their partners. Doctors call this “witness apnea”. A common reason people get referred is because their bed partner is frightened – not by the snoring, but by the silence in between it. It’s very scary. It indicates that they’re actually stopping breathing. People see it and think, ‘My God, there is something wrong with this person. They’re not breathing.’”

High Blood Pressure: There’s a well-known nexus between hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea. Some experts think the relationship is bidirectional: Sleep apnea predisposes you to high blood pressure, and having high blood pressure makes your sleep apnea worse. It’s a dangerous cycle. The two are so entwined that if you have hypertension, there’s a good chance you have sleep apnea too. More than half of all people with severe sleep apnea have hypertension. And in people with resistant hypertension, meaning their blood pressure remains high despite multiple medications, the prevalence of sleep apnea is greater than 80 percent. The bottom line: If you have high blood pressure, then sleep apnea might be present as well.

Other signs that you might have sleep apnea:

  • Insomnia or frequent awakenings
  • Waking up with a sore throat
  • Frequent headaches in the morning
  • Daytime grogginess. Trouble concentrating. Forgetfulness.

The most important thing you can do if you suspect you have sleep apnea is see an expert. Explain your symptoms to your primary care doctor or talk to a sleep medicine specialist. Your doctor will likely schedule you for a sleep test, which can be done at home or in a lab.

Source: New York Times