Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea symptoms may be a mystery for those who sleep alone. Many don't know that they have sleep apnea until their bed partner tells them, or they undergo a sleep apnea sleep study.

Sleep apnea causes repeated cessasations of breathing while asleep. Patients with this disorder have many repeated involuntary breathing pauses during sleep.

The length of the breathing pauses can vary within a patient, and among patients, and can last from 10 seconds to 60 seconds.

Fewer than 30 such breathing pauses during a 7-hour sleep, or shorter breathing pauses, are not considered indicative of sleep apnea. Most adult sleep apnea patients experience 20 to 30 "apneic events" per hour, more than 200 per night. These pauses may occur in clusters.

The breathing pauses are often accompanied by:

  • choking sensations which may wake up the patient;
  • intermittent snoring;
  • nighttime insomnia;
  • early morning headaches;
  • and excessive daytime sleepiness (although not all patients complain of daytime sleepiness).

During the apneic events, a person may turn blue from low blood oxygen levels.

Other features of sleep apnea include:

  • Slowing down of heart beat below 60 beats per minute (bradycardia);
  • Irregular heart beat (cardiac arrhythmias);
  • High blood pressure (both systemic and pulmonary artexial);
  • increase in red cells (in the blood polycythemia);
  • and obesity.

The absence of restful sleep may cause the following symptoms of sleep apnea: sleep apnea depression, deterioration of performance, irritability, sexual dysfunction, and defects in attention and concentration.

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Swanson, Jennifer. Sleep Disorders Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1999: 175.