Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Millions of people across the world suffer from sleep apnea, an umbrella term that includes various disorders affecting breathing during sleep. The condition may seem harmless but carries the potential to increase the risk of various cardiovascular illnesses. Sleep apnea can have different presentations, sometimes causing a person’s throat and airway to become partially or fully blocked during sleep. The problem with sleeping mechanics can make a person get up frequently throughout the night, leaving them tired the following morning.

Read Also About Sleep Seizures

Considered a silent killer, many types of sleep apnea can cause people to quietly die during their sleep. Because the condition does not cause any significant daytime symptoms, sleep apnea remains highly underdiagnosed in many people and may eventually lead to their death. Hence, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with sleep apnea symptoms in men and women for timely diagnosis and management.

What are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?

If you suspect you or someone around you is experiencing a type of sleep apnea, look for the following warning signs to confirm the suspicion. [1] If you have even a few of them present, consider talking to a professional for a more professional diagnosis.

Always Feeling Tired

If you always have enough hours of sleep every night yet feel tired all day long, it might be because you have underlying sleep apnea affecting your sleep quality. Some common signs if daytime fatigue includes falling asleep while reading or watching TV, becoming less productive and more irritable, and making more mistakes at work. Some people may also find themselves catching more colds since poor sleep quality can interfere with their immune system.

Fitting the Profile

Some people are naturally at a greater risk of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea than others. For instance, the condition is more likely to hit men than women, though the risk of the latter considerably increases as they hit menopause. Similarly, being overweight or obese can also make one prone to develop different types of sleep apnea.[2] If you feel like your sleep is constantly getting disturbed and you have all the risk factors present, consider talking to a doctor. If a doctor believes you to be in the high-risk category, they may suggest undergoing further investigations in a lab or at home to characterize the breathing patterns during sleep and form a formal diagnosis.

Being a Noisy Sleeper

Having a noisy sleep, such as snorting, gasping, or snoring, is a warning sign that your upper airway may be getting obstructed during sleep. Remember that not all people who snore have sleep apnea; however, the problem frequently occurs in people with this problem. As the snoring becomes louder, the chances of having sleep apnea become higher. In most cases, partners are the ones to notice a person having gaps in their breathing while snoring. These gaps signify an underlying apnea and may sometimes occur hundreds of times during a single night of sleep.

Feeling Restless During Sleep

People with sleep apnea continue tossing and turning during sleep, appearing extremely restless. If you feel like you are kicking, jerking, thrashing, or waking up to find a twisted pile of sheets under, sleep apnea might be the culprit. These responses are when the condition pauses your breathing at night, disrupting the sleep cycle.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Adults

Most symptoms of sleep apnea primarily target the nighttime breathing patterns. However, in some people, it may also lead to daytime effects. The symptoms can be categorized based on the type of apnea a person suffers from.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea can often lead to the following symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches in the morning, persisting for several hours after waking up
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Loud snoring, often punctuated by choking or gasping sounds
  • Dry mouth upon awakening
  • Increased need to get up from sleep to urinate
  • Restless sleep with frequent episodes of wakefulness throughout  the night
  • Reduced focus

It is crucial to remember that some milk symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may not become apparent immediately to the person suffering from this issue. For instance, snoring and abnormal breathing may only get caught if someone else, such as a roommate or partner, noticed them. Many of these symptoms may also be due to other health problems; hence, a professional must be sought to get a formal diagnosis while ruling out other possibilities.

Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea

Following are some symptoms commonly linked with central sleep apnea:

  • Abnormal breathing, for example breathing that speeds up, slows down and pauses during sleep
  • Nighttime awakenings
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness 
  • Sudden chest pain or shortness of breath at night
  • Morning headaches

Like obstructive sleep apnea, it is normal for individuals with central sleep apnea to remain unaware of their irregular breathing patterns during sleep. The problem may come under the radar once a second person, such as a caregiver or a partner, points it out.

Confirming the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea: What are the Next Steps?

If you suffer from sleep apnea, the best way forward is to consult a healthcare professional about it. Based on how likely it is for you to have sleep apnea, a doctor may request a sleep apnea test, also known as a polysomnogram (PSG).[3]  The test usually takes place in a sleep disorder clinic but sometimes, it may be offered in the comfort of your home. A sleep study or polysomnogram includes multiple components that electronically send and record various physical activities occurring as you sleep. A qualified sleep specialist analyzes the recordings to find out if a person has sleep apnea or any other form of sleeping disorder.

If a polysomnogram confirms sleep apnea, an expert may perform some other investigations to find out the best treatment modality. These investigations may include the following:

  • Electroencephalogram or EEG: A test that measures and records brain waves and activity.
  • Electrooculogram or EOG: A test that records eye movements and uses them to determine different sleep stages a person goes through, such as the REM sleep stage.
  • Snore Microphone: A test to measure snoring activity and record it.
  • Electrocardiogram or ECG: A test to get a tracing of the heart rate, focusing on its rhythm and rate
  • Nasal airflow sensor: A test to record airflow through the nose
  • Electromyogram: A test that records muscle activity, such as leg movements, teeth grinding, and facial twitches to find out when REM sleep begins and ends. This stage of sleep is important as it is when the brain has a heightened activity.


Can sleep apnea cause high blood pressure?

Certain types of sleep apnea, such as obstructive sleep apnea, cause sudden drops in blood oxygen levels. These sudden drops can strain the cardiovascular system while increasing blood pressure. Having this condition can; therefore, make a person more vulnerable to high blood pressure or hypertension.

Is snoring a sign of sleep apnea?

Experts commonly consider excessively loud snoring as one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. However, it is imperative to understand that not every snorer is likely to have a type of sleep apnea. If someone is complaining of snoring too much, experts usually co-relate this symptom with other signs, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and witnessed pauses in breathing during sleep to make a diagnosis of sleep apnea.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can manifest in your body in different ways, typically leading to signs you stop breathing while sleeping. The commonest symptom is breathing disturbances that a person experiences while sleeping. Their breath may pause frequently as they sleep or alternatively, their breathing may become extremely shallow. In some people, both symptoms may co-occur, putting their life at risk. Because the symptoms of sleep apnea may be mild or happen exclusively during the night, many people may not even know about their underlying problem unless a roommate or partner points it out. For most people, the best way to know if they have sleep apnea is by noticing excessive sleepiness or fatigue during the day.

How common is nausea and sleep apnea?

While sleep apnea does not directly cause nausea, it may make people nauseous as one of its secondary effects.

Can I experience sleep apnea and dizzy spells as a symptom?

Many people with obstructive sleep apnea develop shallow breathing or breathing cessation, causing a low concentration of oxygen in the blood as they sleep. This low concentration of oxygen may cause dizzy spells during the day in addition to other vertigo symptoms.


1 Cumpston E, Chen P. Sleep Apnea Syndrome. [Updated 2023 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

2 Jehan S, Zizi F, Pandi-Perumal SR, Wall S, Auguste E, Myers AK, Jean-Louis G, McFarlane SI. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity: Implications for Public Health. Sleep Med Disord. 2017;1(4):00019. Epub 2017 Dec 12. PMID: 29517065; PMCID: PMC5836788.

3 Rundo JV, Downey R 3rd. Polysomnography. Handb Clin Neurol. 2019;160:381-392. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-64032-1.00025-4. PMID: 31277862.