What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?

showing airway during obstructive sleep apnea

If you are reading this, you suspect that you or someone you know might suffer from sleep apnea. To answer the question “what are the warning signs of sleep apnea” we first have to understand it.

Sleep apnea can be described as a disorder where a person undergoes pauses in their breathing while sleeping. The pauses tend to last a minimum of 10 seconds; however, they can be longer and are typically repeated throughout the night. This lack of oxygen and irregular breathing can result in a vast array of symptoms, from depression to daytime sleeping and snoring.

Sleep apnea can also place someone at a higher risk of severe health issues such as eye disorders, stroke, hypertension, and death.

In this article, we will answer “what are the warning signs of sleep apnea” as well as discover the risk factors typically associated with this disorder.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

An individual with sleep apnea can have more than a dozen episodes of breathing pauses while they sleep. During these pauses, their heart rate drops while their body is deprived of oxygen. The body’s reflex then startles the person causing them to wake, and this often results in a loud snore or a gasp.

The entire process can cause the blood pressure and heart rate to rise rapidly. All of this can be pretty stressful on the body. Not only does the individual have their sleep interrupted, but over time it could lead to heart dysfunction, arrhythmias, and the walls of the blood vessels thickening.

Being able to answer the question “what are the warning signs of sleep apnea” means we have to discuss the types of sleep apnea possible

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three varying types of sleep apnea.

Complex Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea is also known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea. It develops when an individual suffering from obstructive sleep apnea develops central sleep apnea due to a treatment therapy called CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure.

Central Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brainstem doesn’t correctly trigger the body to breathe. In this instance, there is no physical blockage. However, the affected person still suffers from sleep apnea episodes. This form of sleep apnea is commonly reported as night-time awakening on insomnia.

A person covered with a grey blanket

Source: Pexels

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea is the most common type, where there is a partial or complete physical blockage of the upper airway during sleep, resulting in sleep apnea episodes.

How Widespread Is Sleep Apnea?

When trying to figure out the warning signs of sleep apnea, it is essential to understand just how prevalent the disorder is. It is estimated that about 10% of women or 25% of men will or have developed sleep apnea. This disorder is most common with older obese men; however, the condition can occur in any individual, including children and babies.

What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea: Risk Factors

There are various risk factors to consider when watching for the warning signs of sleep apnea. A few of these factors are adjustable, meaning these factors can be changed. Others aren’t, as they are intrinsic risk factors such as age or sex.

A couple of the non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • Male factor
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Larger neck size
  • Genetic predisposition to obesity and inflammation
  • Older age

A couple of examples of modifiable risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Alcohol intake
  • Unhealthy eating patterns

What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea in Children?

Since children can also be affected by this disorder, it is essential to highlight warning signs to watch out for in children. This is because children suffering from sleep apnea present very different symptoms to adults suffering from sleep apnea. Some symptoms can include:

  • Mouth breathing
  • Bedwetting
  • Behavioral or learning disorders
  • Excessive need for napping
  • Daytime fatigue often mislabelled as laziness

Symptoms to Look Out For

It is important to note that the disorder’s chronic and acute impacts can lead to many symptoms. Individuals with more than 35 breathing pauses in an hour are at a higher risk of developing chronic symptoms.

Some symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Daytime tiredness
  • Snoring
  • Witnessed breathing pauses while sleeping
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Suddenly waking up at night choking or gasping
  • Frequently waking up at night
  • Teeth grinding
  • Morning headache
  • Irritability
  • Frequently urinating at night
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Racing heart or heart palpitations, especially at night
man not able to sleep

Source: Pexels

Early Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Considering that an individual suffering from sleep apnea is sleeping when their breathing is interrupted, it can be pretty tricky to recognize the signs of this sleeping disorder. That is why for most people suffering from sleep apnea, the earliest warning sign to look out for is excessive daytime sleepiness. This sign can be noticed as it will affect their:

  • Attention span
  • Mood
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Work performance
  • Ability to concentrate

Family members and their bed partner should also look for warning signs associated with sleep apnea. Chronically loud snoring can be an early sign of this sleep disorder. However, not every person that snores has the disorder. Pauses in breathing, choking or gasping episodes while sleeping, and sudden awakening are the tell-tale signs that those around should recognize.


Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues such as:

  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Enlarged heart
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiac arrhythmias

Untreated sleep apnea can also be fatal. For this reason, it is imperative to consult with a doctor, become diagnosed, and get sleep apnea treatment if you have noticed any of the signs listed in this article. You should note that while sleep apnea is manifested through snoring, it doesn’t mean that every person snoring has sleep apnea.

Additionally, not every type of sleep apnea presents as snoring. Central sleep apnea, for instance, doesn’t have snoring as a symptom, which is why you need to take note of any focus difficulty or daytime fatigue and sleepiness you are facing.