Sleep apnea is a serious respiratory disorder. When you have it, your breathing gets interrupted while you are asleep. This typically lasts from 1-20 seconds depending on how bad the condition is. And that’s not just one night a week or so.
One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring. The person sleeping next to you will be the first to know if you are on that spectrum. But the question is—how do you know if you have sleep apnea if you live alone?
Not to worry. There are other ways to figure out if you have sleep apnea even if there is no one next to you monitoring your breathing patterns while you are asleep. Now, there are two types of sleep apnea.
The most severe condition is called obstructive sleep apnea and this occurs when your throat is relaxed and it ends up blocking your airways. This makes it difficult for you to breathe and in turn, wakes you up with coughing or choking.
The second type is called central apnea and this is the result of your brain not sending a signal to the body to keep breathing while you are asleep. So, essentially your body sort of forgets to breathe which also causes you to wake up unpleasantly.
Sleep apnea can range from being a minor discomfort to a major danger. There have been cases where patients with sleep apnea have experienced cardiac arrest because of this disorder.
So, it is very wise to get an evaluation if you suspect you have sleep apnea. Here’s how you can figure it out.
- Loud and frequent snoring
- Gasping for breath or choking while sleeping
- Fatigue and sleepiness during the day irrespective of the time spent sleeping
Now, typically a family member like a spouse who is next to you can give you a heads-up when the snoring becomes disruptive to their sleep. That is a good moment to decide on getting a medical evaluation of your situation.
But not everyone has someone by their bedside. So, if you live alone this part gets a little tricky. So, here’s what you can do.
What to Do If You Live Alone?
If you wake up with a headache frequently, it is possible that it is because you are not sleeping well or enough. And if you have disrupted sleep very often, sleep apnea could be a reason because it stops your body from ever reaching the stage of deep sleep that is needed for you to wake up rejuvenated. So instead, you wake up with a headache.
Here’s another symptom of sleep apnea that does not need you to have someone in your bed pointing out that you are a loud snorer. When you have sleep apnea, it is likely that you sleep with your mouth open. That is because your body is trying to get oxygen into your lungs. While you might get the required air, you will wake up with a dry mouth in the morning or during the night because you get thirsty more often.
Teeth or Jaw Pain
You might experience pain in your teeth or jaws because you might have been grinding your teeth while you were asleep.
This is typically the result of stress and can cause other issues like temporomandibular joint syndrome or TMJ syndrome where you clench your jaw muscles to be able to breathe better. This is clearly a symptom of sleep apnea.
Too Much Sleepiness during the Day
Once in a while, everyone wakes up tired and that’s a tough day. But if you have sleep apnea, you might find yourself being more tired and sleepy than usual or is considered healthy.
This will result in falling asleep watching TV or at your desk more often than what is considered normal. Now, if this happens even though you sleep enough hours at night, you must consider the possibility of having slept unsatisfactorily because of sleep apnea.
Gasping for Breath
If you wake up gasping for breath, that itself is a pretty clear sign that something was wrong with your breathing moments before you woke up, unless you’ve seen a horror movie or are having a nightmare for some reason.
It is unfortunate to wake up alone after a nightmare but if it is sleep apnea, thankfully, you don’t need a partner to tell you that your breathing was out of order.
If this happens enough times, it is time to get yourself an evaluation. It is also rather dangerous in the long run because it increases the risk of strokes and cardiac arrests.
The Risk of Sleep Apnea
Now, there are a few things that increase the risk of having sleep apnea. Here’s what you should look for.
- Typically, the frequency of sleep apnea is higher in men than in women. But after menopause, the frequency is higher in women.
- This disorder can occur at any point in life but you are more at risk as you grow older, especially in the 50s and 60s although it stabilizes after that.
- Those who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk.
- Those who have small upper airways or a receding or small jaw, a high tongue, enlarged adenoids or tonsils, deviated septum, long soft palate are all at a higher risk of sleep apnea.
- The risk for smokers versus non-smokers is three times greater.
- If the circumference of your neck is more than 17 inches (in men) or 16 inches (in women), you are at a greater risk.
- Medical conditions that can cause the nose to block including allergies put you at a higher risk.
An official diagnosis can be done if you get a sleep test or a screen done by experts. But before you make that decision, there are plenty of symptoms that can help you determine whether you need it.
Doing this for yourself is not a diagnosis but just some data to share with the doctor.