Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a pause in your breathing when you are asleep, caused by an obstruction; usually the soft tissue around your airways. Episodes of interrupted breathing are often easily observed by someone when an individual is sleeping, but the sleeper might not know it’s happening. Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA can also cause other symptoms, usually due to tiredness resulting from a lack of deep sleep.
Most people with OSA snore loudly. Their breathing may be noisy and laboured, and it is often interrupted by gasping and snorting with each episode of apnoea.
If you have OSA, you may have no memory of your interrupted breathing during the night. However, when you wake up, you are likely to feel as though you have not had a good night’s sleep.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea:
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Feeling excessively tired during the day
- High Blood Pressure
- Lack of interest in sex
- Irritability and a short temper
- Poor memory and concentration
- Frequent toilet visits during the night
- Headaches (particularly in the morning)
- In men, impotence
Gasping and choking during sleep
You can gasp for air because you are choking during sleep. If you have an apnea episode and the airway is blocked, after a time, your brain will wake you to catch your breath, and this creates the gasping noises.
As you sleep the soft tissue in your airways can relax and vibrates as air passes over it, causing the snoring noise. The soft tissue in the nasal passages, the soft layer at the back of your mouth, the base of your tongue, your tonsils or your uvula can cause you to snore.
Feeling excessively tired during the day
The pauses in breathing and reductions in airflow makes the brain react to the oxygen drop, by momentarily waking you from your sleep. The sufferer can actually stop breathing for as much as 10 seconds with each event. Sleep apnoea can occur up to one hundred times every hour; in severe cases. The whole process then repeats regularly as the person drifts off into a deeper sleep only to be roused again soon after having another apnoea event. The individual is usually completely unaware of all this and rarely do they wake entirely but merely return to a lighter level of sleep. They then wake up still tired, and fatigued throughout the day.
Anxiety and depression
Sleep loss from sleep apnea is associated with similar findings observed in some psychiatric disorders. However, the extent to which sleep deprivation may be related to the emergence of clinical symptoms of psychopathology in individuals is not clear.
High blood pressure
Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnoea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
Lack of interest in sex
Deprivation of restorative sleep can create fatigue during the day and at night but combined with general depression; it can affect the libido. Exactly why is not known but studies have seen compelling data to there being a link. The sufferer’s partner can also be affected by the snoring; which leads to them suffering sleep loss.
Irritability and a short temper
Sleep loss from sleep apnea can lead to changes in mood and cognition.
The human brain creates two chemicals, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA. Both chemicals are found in a portion of the brain called the insula. This part of the brain combines and coordinates the signals from other regions of the brain and helps regulate emotional response. They’re also linked with cognitive ability and functions like blood pressure and perspiration.
People with sleep apnea have lower levels of GABA and abnormally high levels of glutamate. While GABBA id a mood inhibitor and helps people keep calm, glutamate has the opposite effect. Elevated glutamate levels increase stress and stop the brain from functioning correctly.
Poor Memory and Concentration
Sleep deprivation from sleep apnoea can reduce cerebral metabolism within the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognition (concentration). It is suspected that people with a lack of restorative sleep have difficulty converting short term memory to long. Consolidating memories, or storing experiences so that they can be accessed later, is a vital link in the memory-creating process that occurs during sleep.
Frequent toilet visits during the night
Nocturia is so prevalent in sleep apnea patients. It has become a key indicator as significant as snoring. How does apnea cause nocturia? During episodes of sleep apnoea, the soft structures in the throat relax and close off the airway, setting into motion a chain of physiological events.
- Oxygen decreases.
- Carbon dioxide increases.
- The blood becomes more acidic.
- The heart rate drops.
- Blood vessels in the lung constrict.
The body is alerted that something is wrong. The sleeper must wake enough to reopen the airway. By this time, the heart is racing and experiences a false signal of fluid overload. The heart releases a hormone-like protein that tells the body to get rid of sodium and water, resulting in nocturia.
Morning headaches are caused when the oxygen level drops due to the intermittent breathing caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea causes air to be trapped in the lungs, and this de-oxygenated air is the waste product carbon dioxide. It builds up in the lungs and enters the bloodstream. This lack of oxygen in the blood, along with a build-up of carbon dioxide, negatively affects the brain and leads to sleep apnea headaches.
Impotence (erectile dysfunction) and OSA
Scientists don’t know exactly why men can have erectile dysfunction, but sleep deprivation can cause testosterone levels to drop. This testosterone dip, plus the lack of oxygen, could be the cause. Both are important for a healthy erection. Stress (anxiety) and fatigue can also be contributing factors.