Many people treat snoring as a joke or something they feel embarrassed about. But loud snoring—especially when accompanied by daytime fatigue—may be a sign of sleep apnea, a common disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. Sleep apnea can leave you feeling exhausted during the day, affect your mood and your relationship with your bed partner, and even be dangerous to your health. But there are things you can do to sleep better at night and feel sharper and more energetic during the day. The first step is to overcome any embarrassment you feel about your snoring and learn to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea briefly interrupts your breathing while you’re asleep. These breathing pauses typically last between 10 to 20 seconds and can occur hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your natural sleep rhythm. As a consequence, you spend more time in light sleep and less time in the deep, restorative sleep you need to be energetic, mentally sharp, and productive the next day. Since sleep apnea only occurs while you’re sleeping, many people aren’t aware they have a problem until a bed partner or roommate complains about their snoring. While it can be tempting to make light of your own or someone else’s snoring or to feel self-conscious about your snoring, 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, as well as serious physical health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, liver problems and weight gain. With treatment, however, you can control the symptoms of sleep apnea, get your sleep back on track and feel refreshed and alert during the day.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your 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.