Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder that can have serious health complications. An individual with sleep apnea repeatedly stops breathing for short periods of time while asleep. Some of the most common symptoms are loud snoring and tiredness even when the affected individual has technically slept enough. There are three main forms of sleep apnea. The first and most common, obstructive sleep apnea, happens when the muscles in the throat relax and the airway becomes obstructed. There's also central sleep apnea, which is caused by the brain failing to send the right signals to the muscles controlling breathing. With complex sleep apnea syndrome, patients exhibit both central and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
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Hypersomnia is the medical term for excessive sleepiness. An individual with this symptom struggles to stay awake throughout the day. Hypersomnia can be a dangerous condition because it can cause patients to fall asleep at any moment, including while they're driving, operating machinery, or at work. There will also often be the same symptoms seen with chronic sleep deprivation, including 'brain fogginess' and a general lack of energy. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that up to forty percent of the population experiences hypersomnia occasionally. With sleep apnea, this sleepiness occurs even when the affected individual got enough sleep the night before. Periods of hypersomnia tend to last a long time rather than being intermittent.
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Stop Breathing Periodically While Sleeping
The hallmark of sleep apnea is patients stop breathing periodically while sleeping. Typically, these episodes don't lead affected individuals to wake up or experience physical distress or panic. Most patients with sleep apnea aren't even aware they stop breathing in their sleep, and these periods are typically reported by another person like a sleeping partner. If an individual gets a sleep test to diagnose a potential sleep disorder, the technicians can also observe periods of stopped breathing to provide a sleep apnea diagnosis. With the most common kind of sleep apnea, the periodic moments of stopped breathing happen because the airway has become closed due to relaxed throat muscles.
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Many cases of sleep apnea are accompanied by loud snoring, although not everyone with sleep apnea snores. Sometimes the snoring disturbs a patient's partner's sleep so much that they seek medical treatment for it, only to find out they have sleep apnea. There are treatments to control both snoring and sleep apnea, so it's important for individuals to talk to a doctor if they have sleep issues that leave them feeling irritable and fatigued. Snoring occurs when an individual can't circulate air freely through the throat and nose while they are asleep. This poor circulation makes the surrounding tissue vibrate, which then produces the snoring sound.
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A dry mouth may be indicative of certain issues that increase an individual's risk of developing sleep apnea. When the nose is blocked, individuals have to breathe through their mouths during the night. Mouth breathing for several hours causes the mouth to become dry. There are a number of issues that can cause nasal blockage, many of which are temporary. Seasonal allergies, colds, and the flu can all lead the nasal passages to be blocked by mucus. A deviated nasal septum is a genetic condition that can cause nasal blockage during sleep. When individuals breathe through their mouth, it can contribute to snoring and also lead to airway collapse.
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One of the lesser-known symptoms of sleep apnea is a morning headache. Waking up with a headache once in a while doesn't tend to be an indicator of a bigger problem. However, if individuals experience morning headaches several times a week or every day, they can be a sign of sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, the airway becomes blocked partially or totally during the patient's sleep cycle, which reduces their oxygen intake. There isn't as much oxygen being transported from their lungs to their brain or other organ systems and muscles, for that matter. Oxygen deprivation in the brain leads to headaches. Sleep apnea patients tend to experience the worst headaches in the morning, and they taper off after a while of even breathing in consciousness.