How can I tell if I have sleep apnea?

Here are five warning signs for sleep apnea:
  1. Snoring: In additoin to being a nuisance to your bed partner or roommate, loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. Although not everyone who snores has this  illness, you should take this warning sign seriously.
  2. Choking or gasping during sleep. When snoring is paired with choking, gasping, or silent breathing pauses during sleep, it’s a strong indicator of sleep apnea.
  3. Fatigue or daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea can leave you still feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep.
  4. Obesity.The risk for sleep apnea increases with the amount of excess body weight.
  5. High blood pressure. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea. Treating your sleep apnea will decrease your blood pressure.
  6. This content originally appeared on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website.

There are three things I recommend you do to determine whether you have sleep apnea:

1. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a commonly used form that sleep doctors will ask you to fill out, the results of which will be included on your final sleep test results.  However, I find than many of my patients are in denial about how tired they may be. I ask questions like, "Do you fall asleep in front of the TV at night before bedtime?" Most patients, especially men, want to seem strong, and soften their response. I find it better to ask the spouse or sleep partner the same question. For example, I'll ask a patient, "Do you snore?" and the reply is, "Nah, I'm good." Then I'll ask his or her sleep partner, and the answer is "Oh my god, YES!"

2. Ask your dentist. Since patients typically see their dentist more often than their primary care physician, it's a more immediate way to find out. Ask your dentist if you grind your teeth (this is also called bruxism) and whether you have a class two bite (retrognathia). If yes to both, then dig deeper and go see your primary care physician for a referral for sleep study.

3. Download the app (yes, there's an app for everything) Sleep Analyzer (Apple platform only) and follow the instructions. This was recommended to me by a neurologist sleep medicine MD. It will record the sounds you make at night. In the morning when you play back the recording, it plays only the sounds and not the quiet intervals, saving you time. If you have, say, 5 to 15 recording to listen to, you are a sound sleeper with few arousals. If you see 100 to 300 recording for the night, it's time for a more comprehensible study. If you hear snoring and gasping for air on your recordings, it means you may have sleep apnea.

In any case, given all of these methods for determining whether you have sleep apnea or not, there is no substitute for a proper attended sleep study and a visit to your sleep specialist MD. Remember not to take snoring lightly. Sleep apnea is an insidious disease that affects every major system in your body. About 4% of the population has it, but 90% are undiagnosed and hence untreated. Much of what we read in the media is that we are not sleeping as many hours as we should -- it's time to find out how well we sleep and worry less about how long we sleep.

There are a number of clues that you have sleep apnea. Your partner may complain that you snore heavily or stop breathing in your sleep. You may wake up unrefreshed and fall asleep during the day at inappropriate times. Many people wake with a sore throat and headaches. Other clues include high blood pressure and irritability.

Sleep apnea is generally diagnosed by a doctor specializing in sleep disorders by use of an overnight, monitored sleep study.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Tossing and turning? Lack of sleep can be the first warning sign your body sends that something is wrong. Sleep expert Carol Ash joins Dr. Oz to reveal the signs you may have sleep apnea.
Steven C. Smart, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
You can screen yourself for sleep apnea by the consequences of sleep apnea, including falling asleep when watching television; falling asleep when driving; falling asleep during conversation; chronic fatigue; and heart symptoms of irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, and declining capacity. The other screening symptoms can be restlessness at night, frequent trips to the bathroom at night, restless legs, changing positions, feeling tired when you wake up, weight gain, worsening blood pressure, confusion, and memory loss/cognitive problems.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.