Do you wake up feeling tired even though you should have had a good night’s sleep? You may be suffering from sleep apnea, a disorder that causes you to stop breathing multiple times throughout the night. According to the National Institutes of Health, these lapses in breath can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Sleep apnea in older adults is more common than you think, but thankfully there are treatment options available. This disorder affects more than just seniors; about 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is often overlooked by doctors as they can’t detect the condition during routine office visits. Most people that have sleep apnea don’t even realize it because it occurs during their sleep. For someone who lives alone, knowing other symptoms can lead to a possible diagnosis and treatment.
One of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and chronic (ongoing) snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring. Choking or gasping may follow the pauses. It’s important to note, however that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. A sleep study can help determine what’s causing the snoring, so you can develop an effective treatment plan.
You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you're not active. Even if you don't have daytime sleepiness, talk with your doctor if you notice any of the other symptoms, or if your partner alerts you to night-time symptoms.
Other symptoms include:
- Morning headaches
- Memory or learning problems; lack of concentration
- Feeling irritable, depressed or having mood swings/personality changes
- Waking up frequently to urinate
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
If these symptoms persist, seek medical advice. Untreated sleep apnea can:
- Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
- Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes
- Make arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) more likely
- Increase the chance of having driving or work-related accidents
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people. Because some of these symptoms can be life threatening if left untreated, we recommend you wear your medical alert device while sleeping so that emergency medical assistance is readily accessible.