As symptoms of sleep apnea appear when you are asleep, it is difficult for you to be aware of them yourself. You will know of them mostly from your bed partner who notices them.

However, it is quite common to see your bed partner too suffering from disturbed sleep because of your loud snoring, choking sounds, and other breathing problems

Approximately 3 to 7% of adult men and 2 to 5% of adult women in the general population suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In a questionable estimate, central sleep apnea (CSA) accounts for 20 percent of all cases. 

There is a rise in the prevalence mainly due to the increased rate of obesity among the general population. It is an established fact that obesity predisposes to sleep apnea and is one of its leading causes 

You should not ignore this condition if you are suffering from it. You must seek professional treatment because, besides other complications, if left untreated, it makes you a potential candidate for hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.

Sleep apnea may be obstructive or central and though most of the symptoms are common resulting from lack of good sleep, some of them you will see exclusively in the obstructed type.

Loud snoring and paradoxical breathing characterize OSA. These are its hallmark symptoms. In CSA, snoring may be present but it is not prominent. At times, a patient with CSA may be totally asymptomatic.

According to sleep experts, most central apnea patients also have obstructive sleep apnea although this may not be noticed.

However, a meticulous sleep study with polysomnography will help diagnose whether the disturbances in breathing are due to blockage of the airway or irregular signals from the brain.

Sleep apnea symptoms and signs in adults

  • The hallmark symptom is the presence of loud and chronic snoring when you sleep on the back and which decreases when you turn on your side. You may not experience loud snoring every night but it increases with intensity over time. This is a classic symptom and a warning sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Remember that sleep apnea snoring is loud and this is what differentiates it from normal snoring. It is not continuous but intermittent with periods of silence followed by gasping sounds. There is usually no snoring in CSA, but if present, it will not be prominent.
  • During the day, symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness due to inadequate deep sleep during the night
  • You wake up with a dry or sore throat
  • There is poor memory, forgetfulness, and difficulty in concentration
  • There are repetitive pauses of breathing of 10 seconds or more during sleep
  • You wake up for want of breadth
  • A choking and snorting sound occurs when you take a breath after a brief cessation of breathing
  • Insomnia and awakenings at night are marked features.
  • You suffer from heartburn.
  • You have a short temper.
  • Morning headaches keep occurring, but night-time headaches are also seen.
  • Nocturia makes you get up several times during the night to urinate.
  • There is an increased risk of driving and workplace accidents due to lack of sleep.

Long-term symptoms and signs, if sleep apnea is left untreated, include:

Complications over time develop, which include

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Heart failure
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Depression
  • Chronic headaches

In adults, if you experience the following symptoms, you must see a sleep specialist.

  • Very loud snoring enough to wake up your sleeping partner
  • You wake up with a gasping or choking sound
  • There are intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • There is excessive drowsiness during the day, which may cause you to doze off even when you are busy at the desk or watching television, or driving a car.

Signs and symptoms in children

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 10 to 20 percent of children who snore may have sleep apnea. Overall, an estimated 3 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea.

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in children will be different because they vary according to the age of the child.

In children, below the age of 5 years

  • Snoring
  • Waking up frequently at night
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Restlessness during the day
  • Sweating

In children of age 5 years and older

  • Snoring
  • Bedwetting
  • Poor concentration due to lack of sleep and resulting in poor academic performance
  • Children with sleep apnea show poor growth.
  • Behavioral problems such as irritability and hostile behavior may also be seen.

If your child has these symptoms mentioned above, do consult a pediatrician who specializes in sleep disorders. Usually, enlarged tonsils or adenoids are the cause and their removal corrects the apnea.