Do you often wake up not feeling rested? Is it like you haven’t slept at all? Does your partner complain about how loud you snore? If so, you may have a condition called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops multiple times during the night. Snoring is not the only symptom of sleep apnea, and not all snoring means that you have sleep apnea.
The snoring associated with sleep apnea is abnormally loud. You may also see a patient gasping for breath or not breathing at all. In addition to snoring, you may also have difficulty concentrating throughout the day, along with fatigue.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. While you sleep, the soft tissues in your mouth and throat block your airway. Although your body should relax as you sleep, the muscles and tissues relax too much, obstructing your oxygen supply. When you stop breathing, your body panics and alerts you to wake up. This is why you may gasp for breath or startle awake.
Sleep apnea is much more than just snoring or occasionally not breathing. You can stop breathing hundreds of times a night, which can lead to serious long-term issues.
Overworked Immune System
Your body undergoes high levels of stress with sleep apnea. If you don’t get enough oxygen, your body goes into a fight-or-flight state. This means that your body thinks there is a threat to your safety, so it acts accordingly. When this happens, your body releases stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help you think and move faster in dangerous situations.
However, your body cannot be exposed to these hormones for long. Otherwise, your immune system becomes less effective. If your body is constantly under stress, your immune system will fatigue. This means that it will become harder for your body to fight infections. Additionally, you might get sick more often.
There are strong links between people who have obstructive sleep apnea and heart problems. When you stop breathing, your oxygen levels drop. As a result, your blood pressure increases to balance the oxygen loss. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of strain on your heart.
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to have hypertension (high blood pressure). Because of this, you have an increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Additionally, having low blood oxygen levels can lead to sudden death.
Diminished Cognitive Abilities
Your brain needs to rest completely in order to function properly. If you are constantly waking and never resting, your brain begins to slow. This means that it will be difficult to concentrate on tasks. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just mean that you can’t focus at work or school. It also means that you may not be able to pay attention while you are driving, creating a hazard.
Additionally, your brain needs rest to store your memories. Therefore, patients with sleep apnea are more likely to be forgetful.