Sleep Apnea Symptoms

The warning signs of sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Waking repeatedly and sleep fragmentation
  • Sleep partners witnessing interrupted breathing or gasping for breath
  • Waking with a headache; not feeling refreshed
  • Feeling tired and sleepy during the day, even with seven or more hours of sleep the night before
  • Mood swings, depression or memory loss
  • Frequent motor vehicle accidents or dozing off while driving

Getting to the Root of the Problem

One challenge in diagnosing sleep apnea is that the patient is used to it – accustomed to poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue. Often, the spouse or sleep partner will be the one that prompts medical investigation, due to the disruptive nature of loud snoring or having witnessed interrupted breathing.

In addition to a full ear, nose and throat physical exam, otolaryngologists specializing in sleep disorders are trained to ask probing questions about sleeping and waking habits, for example: Can you watch a movie without falling asleep? Do you feel a strong need for an afternoon nap? Do you fall asleep very quickly? Have you fallen asleep while driving?

The interview, combined with the results of the physical exam and evidence gathered from the spouse or sleep partner will help the doctor determine if apnea is suspected. The next step is a formal sleep study. The patient spends a night in a sleep laboratory where breathing, blood pressure, brain waves and other vital signs are monitored and recorded. The sleep disorders team uses this information to make an accurate diagnosis and to help plan for treatment. The sleep study is prescribed in a facility near the patient’s home.