Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea can vary from person to person. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequent loud snoring. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and not everyone with sleep apnea snores. 
  • Daytime sleepiness which may result in difficulty focusing and falling asleep during the day, potentially while driving.
  • Pauses in breathing: If you have sleep apnea you may wake up suddenly with jerking body movements after these breathing pauses, often gasping and choking. If you share a bed with someone, they may notice these noises and movements.
  • Difficulties with memory and concentration
  • Unusual moodiness or irritability
  • Frequently waking up to urinate at night
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Erectile dysfunction and decreased libido

How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is Diagnosed

To help diagnose if you have sleep apnea your healthcare provider will look at the following:

Your healthcare provider will want to know about your sleep and health habits, including how much sleep you get, how long it takes to fall asleep and whether you sleepwalk or talk while asleep. Your medications will be reviewed for their effects on sleep and you may be asked about your family history, because sleep apnea runs in families.  A physical exam will help rule out other medical conditions and will look for anything making your upper airway narrower, such as enlarged tonsils or a small jaw, that may contribute to sleep apnea.  

You may be asked to complete a sleep study at home or at a sleep center. A sleep study monitors and records your breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels overnight. In a sleep lab, this non-invasive test will use sensors attached to your head and body connected by long wires to a computer. The results, which may include measuring heart, lung, brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and oxygen levels while asleep will help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis of sleep apnea. A sleep study completed in a sleep center provides more information than can be collected when using a portable sleep apnea test at home.  You also may be asked to complete a sleep diary to keep track of your sleeping patterns and how you feel to assist with diagnosing your condition .

When to See Your Doctor About Sleep Apnea

If you or your loved one have snoring that disrupts your sleep, pauses in breathing during the night or have a hard time staying awake during the day you should talk to your healthcare provider. In addition, if you are having a hard time controlling your asthma, blood pressure or blood sugar, you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, if you are having a hard time controlling your asthma, blood pressure or blood sugar, you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

How to Discuss Lingering Symptoms of Sleep Apnea with your Healthcare Provider

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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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