You might be a stickler when it comes to your sleep habits — avoiding certain foods and drinks that can mess with your sleep, practicing meditation and other breathing methods to help you unwind, and even investing in a weighted blanket to help you fall asleep faster. But if you do all of these things and still wake up groggy — or with a dry throat, feeling like you're hungover even when you didn't drink the night before — you may not be getting the restful hours of sleep you imagine.
Obstructive sleep apnea — the most common form of sleep apnea — is a sleep disorder in which the airway is repeatedly blocked during the night, disrupting your sleep.
"When we sleep, the muscles in the body relax, including the muscles in our airway. However, with this relaxation comes a narrower airway," Sujay Kansagra, MD, Mattress Firm's sleep health expert and the director of Duke University's Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, told POPSUGAR. "When the airway is so narrow that the movement of air leads to a vibration, this results in snoring. But when the airway becomes so narrow that it is blocked, breathing can be obstructed causing the brain to wake you up."
Joseph Ojile, MD, DABSM, FCCP, CEO, founder, and medical director of the Clayton Sleep Institute, explained that the most common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- Episodes of waking up multiple times at night
- Loud snoring while sleeping
- Gasping while sleeping
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Feeling irritable during the day
- Persistent dry mouth when waking up
- Morning headaches
Dr. Ojile told POPSUGAR that certain factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea, including excess weight; a larger neck circumference; use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers; smoking; and frequent nasal congestion. Aging in general can also be a factor, as throat tissue begins to loosen.
While having sleep apnea doesn't necessarily cause other health problems, there's a definite link between the condition and a number of even more serious diseases. "Obstructive sleep apnea appears to increase the risk for diseases such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and stroke," Dr. Ojile said. In other words, this isn't something you want to take lightly.
According to report published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, approximately 5.9 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, but there are 23.5 million who remain undiagnosed. If you think you may have sleep apnea, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. She can determine if you need a sleep study and work with you to develop a treatment plan, which may include the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help safeguard your breathing while you sleep, according to Dr. Kansagra.