Since you’re asleep when sleep apnea hits and you don’t really have control over what your body is doing, the best way to determine whether you have this disorder is to look at how your body and brain function during the day. Do you wake up with headaches? Feel like you could fall asleep at any given moment? Notice a change in your personality — more aggressiveness, less ability to cope with stress? These are all signs of chronic sleep deprivation, and when left untreated, they can lead to some very serious health problems. For example,
- People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to suffer from serious heart conditions. Compared to people who receive treatment and people who don’t deal with sleep apnea at all, anyone with an untreated condition is three times a likely to have heart disease, and four times as likely to have a stroke.
- According to a study published in the academic journal Neurology, people whose brains don’t get enough oxygen during sleep — e.g., anyone suffering from sleep apnea — are likely to develop micro-infarcts. These are tiny changes in brain tissue that result from oxygen deprivation during sleep, over a long period of time.
- This was mentioned above, but chronic sleep deprivation is often the first sign that you’re suffering from sleep apnea. Over time, this can lead to serious physical, mental, and emotional health problems: high blood pressure and cholesterol, chemical and hormonal imbalances, uncontrollable weight gain, and an inability to concentrate are all signs that you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep.
The good news is that this is a very treatable disorder, and products like CPAP masks and CPAP nasal pillows are very affordable, effective, and comfortable to use. Quite simply, if you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, you owe it to yourself (and your body!) to seek diagnosis and treatment from a sleep specialist.