Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.
Loud snoring leaving you feeling tired during the day?
Learn what causes sleep apnea, how to recognize the symptoms, and what you can do to help yourself.
What is sleep apnea?
Many people treat snoring as a joke or something to feel embarrassed about. But loud snoring—especially when accompanied by daytime fatigue—may be a sign of sleep apnea, a common but serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. If you have sleep apnea, you’re probably not aware of these short breathing pauses that occur hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your natural sleep rhythm. All you know is that you don’t feel as energetic, mentally sharp, or productive during the day as you should.
The most common type of sleep apnea—obstructive sleep apnea—occurs when the airway is blocked, causing pauses in breathing and loud snoring. Since sleep apnea only occurs while you’re sleeping, you may only discover you have a problem when a bed partner or roommate complains about your snoring. Though you may feel self-conscious about it or tempted to just make light of your snoring, it’s something you shouldn’t ignore. Sleep apnea can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health.
The chronic sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can result in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea can cause moodiness, irritability, and even lead to depression. It can also result in other serious physical health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, liver problems, and weight gain. With the right treatment and self-help strategies, however, you can control your snoring and the symptoms of sleep apnea, get your sleep back on track, and feel refreshed and alert during the day.
Types of sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, often causing you to snore loudly.
Central sleep apnea is a much less common type of sleep apnea that involves the central nervous system, occurring when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. People with central sleep apnea seldom snore.
Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea
It can be tough to identify sleep apnea on your own, since the most prominent symptoms only occur when you’re asleep. But you can get around this difficulty by asking a bed partner to observe your sleep habits, or by recording yourself during sleep. If pauses occur while you snore, and if choking or gasping follows the pauses, these are major warning signs that you have sleep apnea.
Major warning signs
Loud and chronic snoring almost every night
Choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep
Pauses in breathing
Waking up at night feeling short of breath
Daytime sleepiness and fatigue, no matter how much time you spend in bed