Many of my over-40 patients complain of feeling tired all the time despite being in bed every night for 8-9 hours. Sometimes they are simply burning the candle at all ends and just need to simplify their schedules. Yet, some of them also complain of other symptoms associated with their fatigue and sleep patterns that pique my concern. That’s why I’d like to tell you about the telltale signs that can alert you to the possibility that you may have a common sleep disorder – sleep apnea.
What’s Waking You Up At Night?
Many things can wake someone up in the middle of the night – a pet, a noise, being too cold or hot, or a bad dream. These are mostly situational, external causes. But I’d like to tell you about the internal, specific to you, causes that may alert you to the possibility that you may have sleep apnea – a stopping of breathing – during sleep. Here’s what to look for:
1. Snoring: Probably the most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea. People who snore may not realize that they also have periods where their breathing just stops. This may result in waking suddenly gasping for air. Usually it’s a spouse who notices these lapses in breathing. Tell these symptoms to your doctor so you can be evaluated with a sleep study.
2. Obesity. Heavy fat deposits around your neck and upper chest can cause a shift in your trachea when you are lying down. In addition, extra weight can also affect your inner mouth structures, like your tongue. Your tongue can begin to fall back over your trachea during sleep and partially, or completely, block air entry. This can result in snoring or, worse, an actual cutting off of air that makes you wake suddenly gasping for air. Elevating your head with more pillows, or sleeping on your side can help. Your doctor may also prescribe a device called a CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure. It’s also advisable to work on weight loss as well.
2. Blocked sinus/deviated septum: If you have dust allergies that cause your sinuses to congest badly, this can be aggravated when you go to sleep making it difficult to breathe. Keeping a clean sleeping environment, irrigating/clearing your sinuses before bedtime, or taking a decongestant, can help greatly. Another condition, deviated septum, can actually partially block one, or both nostrils from receiving enough air. Either situation can accompany sleep apnea.
3. Mouth breathing: If you wake up during the night with a parched, dry mouth and throat needing a glass of water, you’re doing a lot of mouth breathing while sleeping. It can cause a tight sensation in your throat and a feeling that you’re not getting enough air. See an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor to determine if you have a deviated septum or congested sinuses (or both) causing you to mouth breathe.
4. Waking with gasping: This is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea and can be caused by any of the above (obesity, blocked airway). This may happen frequently or only once in a while. Keep track of how frequently it occurs. If it occurs only once in a while, it may just be related to dust in your room, having a bad cold, or being very stressed. If it occurs frequently, you may chronically not get enough air while sleeping.
5. Frequent nighttime urination: Researchers say that if you’re not getting enough air while sleeping, your body starts to release adrenaline to speed up your metabolism. It makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe deeper, faster. The process also causes you to urinate more. Frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom could be a sign of sleep apnea.
6. Daytime sleepiness/clumsiness: Daytime fatigue and clumsiness not only lead to a nonproductive work day but a dangerous one. Many at-work personal injury accidents – cuts, falls, collisions, errors in judgment, falling asleep on the job, vehicle accidents, occur from fatigue. People with undiagnosed sleep apnea frequently fall asleep while driving their cars and cause accidents – some of them fatal.
7. High blood pressure: With too low oxygen levels while sleeping, your body secretes adrenaline. It raises your blood pressure in a “fight or flight” response. If your oxygen levels are chronically low, your blood pressure will start to remain chronically elevated.
8. Weight gain: Not sleeping well, from not breathing well, at night causes your body to secrete hormones which cause you to start packing on pounds. It can be a vicious cycle as the extra weight will also further aggravate a sleep-time breathing disorder.
9. Morning headache/Muscle aches. Waking up with a headache is never a good way to start the day. They may just be related to having a bad cold or allergy with sinus congestion. Another condition, fibromyalgia – muscle aches – can also be associated with poor sleep from sleep apnea. It can only be diagnosed properly with a sleep study test.
10. Depression/Irritability/Cognitive Problems: Non-restorative sleep can cause your mental, as well as your physical, health to suffer badly. Your brain needs adequate oxygen to work properly. Without it, your memory and learning suffers as well as your mood. If this is a chronic issue for you, see an ENT to evaluate your airway.
Sleep is one of the most important healing processes that your body has. So is getting enough oxygen, both awake and asleep. If your sleep is restless, your oxygen levels inadequate, your body won’t heal, renew or function properly. Rather, it will actually start to break down and leave you at high risk for a whole host of diseases. If you recognize any of the symptoms listed here, see your doctor for a sleep study test and evaluation of your airways. It can put you on the road to a whole new, healthier, happier you.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/signs.html
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms, http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-07-2011/sleep-apnea-signs.html
Image Credit: nightbreatheclinic.com