Do you often find yourself waking up during the night? Or do you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted despite a full night’s sleep? These could be signs of a sleep disorder, specifically obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Understanding the symptoms, risk factors and screening tools can help you identify and address this common yet often undiagnosed condition.

Obstructive sleep apnea manifests through various symptoms, which might seem innocuous on their own but can collectively indicate a significant problem. “There is a reason you sleep one third of your life and it is important we reap all the benefits of sleep. Knowing what could be impeding you from getting a great night sleep,” says Christine Nwaiser, MD, sleep medicine specialist at Mather Hospital.

Here are key symptoms to watch out for:

  1. Nocturia: Frequent urination during the night disrupts sleep patterns and is often associated with OSA.
  2. Multiple Nocturnal Awakenings: Constant interruptions in sleep can leave you feeling unrested and fatigued.
  3. Inability to Focus/Decreased Memory: OSA can impair cognitive function, affecting memory and concentration.
  4. Dry Mouth: Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat is a common complaint among OSA sufferers.
  5. Morning Headaches: Headaches upon waking may indicate oxygen deprivation during sleep, a hallmark of OSA.

Your medical history can provide valuable clues when it comes to identifying OSA. Conditions such as hypertension, atrial fibrillation, stroke, obesity, and diabetes c risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Healthcare professionals often employ screening tools to assess the likelihood of OSA in individuals exhibiting symptoms or risk factors. One such tool is the STOP BANG questionnaire:

  • Snoring
  • Tiredness during the day
  • Observed apneas (pauses in breathing during sleep)
  • Pressure (hypertension)
  • BMI over 35 kg/m²
  • Age over 50
  • Neck circumference over 16 inches
  • Gender (male)

Each item on the questionnaire helps in gauging the probability of OSA, with a higher score indicating a greater likelihood of the condition.

If you suspect you may have obstructive sleep apnea based on the symptoms, risk factors, or screening tools, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Diagnosis typically involves a sleep study, during which sleep technicians monitor your breathing patterns, oxygen levels and other parameters. Treatment options for OSA vary depending on the severity and individual circumstances but may include lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or positional therapy, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, or surgical interventions.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common yet potentially serious sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding your risk factors, and utilizing screening tools, you can take steps towards identifying and managing OSA and improving your overall health and quality of life.