Maybe someone has told you your snore is deafening, or you've woken up on more than your fair share of mornings feeling less than refreshed. In those instances, it's probably pretty obvious something's up with your sleep.
But in the case of sleep apnea, a disorder wherein people stop breathing while asleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night, pinpointing the problem can be significantly trickier. These brief periods of breathing cessation don't trigger full alertness, but disrupt sleep enough to leave sufferers groggy in the mornings -- and at risk for a number of more serious health problems, often without even realizing there's a problem.
People with undiagnosed sleep apnea -- which may affect more than 20 million adults, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association -- may go on to develop diabetes or depression, and face an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, among other concerns.
Men over the age of 40 are at an increased risk for sleep apnea. Being overweight also increases your likelihood of developing the condition, as can a family history of the disease, having a large tongue or neck and having allergies, sinus problems or any nasal obstruction, according to WebMD.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to treat sleep apnea, including simple lifestyle measures like losing weight and avoiding alcohol. But all too often a sleep apnea diagnosis is hard to come by. There's no "test" for sleep apnea, and it's not often evident at a doctor's appointment, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. A family member or bed partner is often first to notice the signs, usually snoring or brief periods of no breathing.
But don't leave your health entirely in the hands of the people sleeping around you. Today, in honor of Sleep Apnea Awareness Day, take a moment to familiarize yourself with these more surprising signs that you could have sleep apnea.
It might not be your allergies after all. A common symptom of sleep apnea, although it may not seem related at first, is waking up with a sore throat or a dry mouth.
While uncomfortable in their own right, frequent morning headaches could be a sign of something more serious. In a 2001 study, 67 percent of people being tested for sleep problems who often awoke with a headache were later diagnosed with sleep apnea. And of those people who also snored, 81 percent were diagnosed, WebMD reported. "Very often these people go to a doctor thinking it's the headaches that are disturbing their sleep," study author Jeanetta Rains, Ph.D., told the website, instead of including the headaches in a list of symptoms.
A good night's sleep and a peek in your brain power go hand in hand, so it follows that trouble sleeping -- sleep apnea or not -- can lead to memory, learning and attention problems. All three are commonly seen in people with sleep apnea. In fact, among children diagnosed with ADHD, many may simply be exhibiting symptoms of a sleep disorder, the New York Times reported in 2012.
A number of personality changes, like mood swings or a lagging libido, can be a sign that something is up when it comes to sleep, according to WebMD. These changes are likely due to the fact that waking up hundreds of times every night -- even briefly -- takes away from your total hours of shut-eye. And too little sleep is a known culprit for feeling weepier, grumpier and less sexy than usual.
Undiagnosed sleep apnea doesn't necessarily cause additional health problems, but it does increase your risk of many, including diabetes and obesity. With the help of your doctor, you can rule out sleep apnea as a contributing factor, or find the best treatment. In the latter case, treating sleep apnea may in the process treat other issues as well.