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Sleep Apnea Symptoms

What are the common sleep apnea symptoms?

5.4 million Canadians suffer from sleep apnea, but only 1 in 4 have been diagnosed. Common symptoms such as snoring, fatigue, and associated conditions can be strong indications that you have sleep apnea.

If you are experiencing 2 or more of these common sleep apnea symptoms, it may be a sign that you can have sleep apnea:

  • Snoring
  • Fatigue throughout the day – sometimes falling asleep while driving or at work
  • Breathing pauses (apneas)
  • Gasping for air at night
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling depressed, irritable or moody 4,5
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Waking up often to use the bathroom at night
  • Nightmares

Factors which may contribute to sleep apnea

Anyone can develop sleep apnea regardless of age, gender or body type. However, some factors are may put at increased risk: 10

Age: Sleep apnea is more prevalent in adults older than 50.

Gender: Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women. This has been attributed to differences in anatomical and functional properties of the upper airway.

Weight: Excess weight increases the risk of having sleep apnea. A BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese.

Genetics: People who naturally have narrow airways can be more at risk of developing sleep apnea.

Smoking and alcohol: These may compromise muscle activity and increase the risk of snoring or airway obstruction.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring occurs during sleep, when your throat muscles become so relaxed that they can no longer support the airway to stay fully open. As the airway collapses, each breath of air causes the lining tissue to vibrate and make loud snoring sounds.

Some mild snoring can be harmless, and often treated with over-the-counter products like ones which improve your sleep positioning. But when your snoring is loud and accompanied by breathing pauses called apneas – which are periods when you stop breathing and then gasp for air – it can be a sign of sleep apnea.

Apneas can last up to a minute in severe cases and prevent your body from getting enough oxygen. Then your carbon dioxide blood levels rise, signalling to your brain to wake up briefly (and unconsciously), tense your throat muscles and gasp for air.

Sleep apnea interrupts your sleep cycle and can cause you to wake up exhausted, irritable, and foggy

Many people first suspect they have sleep apnea because their bed partner or children complain about loud snoring

If your snoring is accompanied by apneas and is the result of obstructive sleep apnea, it can almost always be eliminated with sleep apnea treatment.

Is sleep apnea dangerous?

If it is not treated properly, sleep apnea can become more complicated over time and potentially lead to other health conditions.

However, by treating your sleep apnea proactively you may be able to reduce or eliminate the risks of these long-term health conditions, such as:

Type 2 Diabetes 3
If you have diabetes and sleep apnea, not being able to breathe properly at night can aggravate your diabetes.
The interrupted sleep caused by sleep apnea puts stress on your heart and your body. It can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, potentially leading to insulin resistance. If left undetected and untreated, sleep apnea can worsen your health.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) 4,5
When sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing at night, your oxygen blood levels can decrease while your carbon dioxide levels build up. Your  heart is forced to work harder to get rid of the carbon dioxide, which can lead to high blood pressure.
Heart Disease  4,5
People with sleep apnea are at a higher risk of experiencing a heart attack while sleeping, or of developing coronary artery disease. 
Sleep apnea is sometimes wrongly diagnosed as depression. More than 70% of people with sleep apnea experience symptoms that are depression-like. 
Sleep apnea can cause you to feel  tired and irritable throughout the day. Even if you sleep a full 8 hours, your body is not truly getting the rest it needs.
Weight gain 7 
Feeling tired can cause you to eat more than you normally would and lead to weight gain. People who have sleep apnea and adhere to their therapy can experience weight loss and feel less hungry during the day.

Am I at risk of having sleep apnea?

Take this short quiz to assess your likelihood of having sleep apnea and whether you should talk to your doctor.


Read more about sleep apnea

Paul E. Peppard; Mariana Szklo-Coxe; K. Mae Hla; Terry Young (2006). Longitudinal Association of Sleep-Related Breathing Disorder and Depression. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(16):1709-1715.
Anne G. Wheaton; Geraldine S. Perry; Daniel P. Chapman; Janet B. Croft. Sleep Disordered Breathing and Depression among U.S. Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2008.
Jones, S.f. “Impact of Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea on Glucose Control in Type 2 Diabetes.” Yearbook of Pulmonary Disease, vol. 2011, 2011, pp. 198–199., doi:10.1016/j.ypdi.2010.12.023.
Young, T., Peppard, P.E., & Gottlieb, D.J. (2002). Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea: a population health perspective. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med, 165, 1217-1239.
Young T. et al (2008): Sleep Disordered Breathing and Mortality: Eighteen-Year Follow-up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort
Campos-Rodriguez, Francisco, et al. “Effect of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure on Blood Pressure and Metabolic Profile in Women with Sleep Apnoea.” European Respiratory Journal, vol. 50, no. 2, 2017, p. 1700257.,
Gottlieb, Daniel J., et al. “CPAP versus Oxygen in Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 370, no. 24, 12 May 2014, pp. 2276–2285., doi:10.1056/nejmoa1306766.
Edwards, Cass, et al. “Depressive Symptoms before and after Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Men and Women.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2015,
Lyytikäinen, P, et al. “Sleep Problems and Major Weight Gain: a Follow-up Study.” International Journal of Obesity, vol. 35, no. 1, Aug. 2010, pp. 109–114.,
Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society WhiteBook (chapter 23)

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