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Sleep & Oxygen Blog

What Does Sleep Apnea Feel Like? Symptoms, Warning Signs and Testing

Tuesday, June 8, 2021 - Facts about sleep
Snoring caused by sleep apnea
If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you’re not alone. Two of the most common questions we hear from our patients before they complete a sleep test are “how would I know if I had sleep apnea?” and “can I test myself for sleep apnea?”.

How do I Know if I Have Sleep Apnea? 

Sleep Apnea symptoms can vary from person to person, range from mild to severe and can be felt during the day and at night. The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are listed below but keep in mind that although you may experience several of these warning signs, until you get a sleep test to confirm, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea occur during the day or while you’re awake so they’re easier to spot.

These include:

Morning headaches

Insomnia (difficulty staying asleep)

Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day)

Dry mouth after waking up


Lack of concentration and
difficulty paying attention while awake

The following symptoms are also warning signs of sleep apnea but because they occur while you sleep, they may be less noticeable. A bed partner or someone you’re sharing a room with may be the first person to notice these signs.

Loud snoring

Gasping for air during sleep

Moments where you stop breathing during sleep

Being easily awoken or startled out of sleep accompanied by gasping or choking

Who is Most at Risk For Sleep Apnea?

Although sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, men and women of all sizes, it is more frequently diagnosed in men over 50 years of age who are overweight. The most common risk factors for sleep apnea include:

Age: adults older than 50, however you can be much younger and still have untreated sleep apnea

Gender: men are more likely to be diagnosed than women

Weight: people who are overweight 

Genetics: someone with a naturally smaller airway than the average body

Smoking and Alcohol: the harmful effects can  increase the risks

Sleep Apnea Testing

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you can take this short online quiz to see your likelihood of having it and your severity. The only surefire way to confirm if you have sleep apnea or to rule it out, is to get tested. There are two ways in which you can be tested in Canada, depending on your province - at home or in a sleep lab. In all provinces, you will need a referral from your doctor before you can be tested. In Ontario, sleep tests are performed in a sleep lab. In all other provinces, sleep tests are performed in the comfort of your home with an at-home test. Once your results are analyzed, your doctor will be able to determine whether you have sleep apnea or not and what kind of treatment is required.

Will Sleep Apnea Go Away?

sleep apnea like symptoms

Unfortunately not. Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires ongoing therapy. This is why it’s important to begin CPAP treatment as soon as possible after you’ve been diagnosed. Untreated sleep apnea can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. 

If you still have questions or concerns about your health, speak to your doctor, click here for further information regarding the symptoms of sleep apnea and CPAP treatment or contact one of our accredited sleep health professionals today for support.

About the Author

Dr. Raymond Gottschalk MB ChB, FRCPC, FCCP. D, ABIM, D, ABSM Sleep

Dr. Raymond Gottschalk is the medical director for VitalAire Canada and is co-chair of the sleep medicine training program at McMasterUniversity with Dr. Juliana Li. Dr. Gottschalk is also the co-chair for the CPSO task force in sleep medicine and helped co-author the CPSO guidelines for the IHF in sleep and respiratory medicine. He has clinics in St Catharines, Hamilton and in the Cambridge Memorial Hospital.


Queense SU Journal

University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester

Public Health Agency of Canada

Tags: Sleep apnea