Snoring can be a symptom of Sleep Apnea
  • Problems & Treatments

Sleep Apnea: Top Ten Signs and Symptoms for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea impacts the sleep and overall health and well-being of nearly 860,000 diagnosed Canadian adults 18 years and older. In addition to diagnosed cases, more than one-quarter of Canadian adults experience symptoms associated with having sleep apnea. You may have sleep apnea if you experience some or all of the following top 10 signs and symptoms.


Not every snorer has sleep apnea, but this noisy sleeping habit is one of the condition’s most common symptoms. People with sleep apnea snore because their airways are partially or completely obstructed. When air can’t flow freely through your airway, the distinctive snoring sound results. While regular snorers have relaxed airways, they still receive enough oxygen for regular breathing during sleep.

Difficulty Concentrating

Since sleep apnea disturbs sleep, sufferers can have as much difficulty concentrating during the day as people who don’t get enough sleep. We all know exhaustion makes concentrating difficult, but research shows that sleep apnea can actually change the brain’s chemistry and make concentration especially challenging.

People with sleep apnea have low levels of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger which helps people stay calm, and high levels of glutamate, a chemical messenger which encourages normal brain function. This mix makes people with sleep apnea operate at a heightened, frazzled state which impairs concentration.

Irregular Breathing During Sleep

Sleep apnea is characterized by multiple pauses in breathing during sleep lasting for more than 10 seconds. These pauses, known as apneas, typically last between 10 and 30 seconds. In severe cases, people with sleep apnea may experience these apneas every few minutes. An apnea may be silent or may sound like choking or gasping as the person struggles to take in oxygen.

Morning Headaches

Irregular breathing impacts the amount of oxygen people with sleep apnea take into their lungs during rest. The brain wants to conserve oxygen levels, so it dilates its arteries to increase blood flow. This dilation increases pressure in the skull, which when coupled with disrupted sleep often results in morning headaches. These headaches usually fade within the first few hours of waking, since normal breathing and oxygen consumption resumes.

Daytime Fatigue

People with sleep apnea often feel tired during the day, even if they’ve been asleep for the recommended eight hours. Sleep apnea disturbs sleep, making it impossible for sufferers to get into the deep sleep they need.

Dry Mouth Upon Waking

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type of sleep apnea, occurs because the upper airway narrows or collapses entirely during sleep, which causes the sufferer to breathe irregularly. With the upper airway compromised, people with sleep apnea find breathing through their noses difficult. This behaviour causes many sufferers to breathe through their mouths while they’re asleep. Breathing through the mouth dries out the saliva that naturally coats the mouth, which makes it feel dry upon waking.

Dry mouth can trigger other troublesome symptoms including sore throats, bad breath, and persistent thirst.

Irritable Mood

As with other problems that impair sleep, sleep apnea can make you feel moody and irritable. When sleep apnea occurs, the brain doesn’t have access to enough GABA, the chemical which regulates your emotions and helps you stay calm. With low levels of GABA, you’re more likely to snap at people, become easily angered, and generally feel out of sorts.

Frequent Waking

Irregular breathing, snoring, and other sleep disturbances can all interrupt the sleep of people with sleep apnea. If you often wake during the night, you might have sleep apnea. This point is especially true if you can’t pinpoint another reason for waking, such as needing to use the bathroom, dealing with chronic pain, feeling hungry, or drinking caffeinated beverages before bed.

Memory Loss and Forgetfulness

People with sleep apnea often feel forgetful and struggle to remember information. Their irregular breathing during sleep reduces their oxygen levels at rest, which impacts the essential supply of oxygen to the brain. Exhaustion also plays a part in making sleep apnea sufferers feel foggy.

High Blood Pressure and Stress

Since sleep apnea reduces the amount of oxygen people can take in while they sleep, individuals with sleep apnea often have poor cardiovascular health. Your heart relies on oxygen to work efficiently. With low oxygen in the blood, the heart must work harder to pump blood around the body. This extra exertion causes high blood pressure. When your blood pressure is high, you’re more prone to high stress levels. High levels of glutamate, as observed in the brains of sleep apnea sufferers, also increase stress levels.

Untreated sleep apnea is linked to a range of health problems including high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and strokes. A range of treatment options exist, from CPAP machines to dental treatment devices for mild cases. Make an appointment with one of our dentists to discuss treatment options at a 123Dentist clinic near you.