Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Published: Thursday, December 21, 2023
Dr. Tiffany Nicoll
FM PGY-1 Resident

Is obstructive sleep apnea why I’m always tired?

“Dad, wake up, you’re missing the movie!” As a child, we had movie night on the weekends. Every time we’d start a movie, my dad would always fall asleep within the first ten minutes. For years, we thought my dad just didn’t like movies until we found out that he had an underlying medical diagnosis that was making him extremely tired and causing him to fall asleep at inappropriate times. It turns out he was suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Let’s review the symptoms of OSA and how it can be treated.  

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

OSA is a sleep disorder where someone has repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. It’s a common medical problem; however, it is often underdiagnosed. This is why it’s so important that patients and their families understand the symptoms to look out for.  

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea? 

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea occur due to the lack of adequate oxygenation to the brain during sleep. A common symptom of OSA is excessive daytime fatigue. This is often due to a tired, sleep-deprived brain, even after a full night’s sleep. This was one of the most obvious symptoms that my father experienced and the reason why he would quickly fall asleep during any movie night. Another major symptom is loud snoring. Many cases of OSA are caught because the patient’s bed partner is constantly telling them that they’re snoring loudly at night or even gasping for air in their sleep. Other symptoms include morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, vivid or strange dreams, and mood changes. Untreated OSA can have various negative impacts on one’s health including systemic hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and stroke. 

Am I at an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea?  

The most common risk factors for OSA include obesity, age, male gender, smoking, having a large or thick neck, and alcohol consumption.   

How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed?  

My father went to his primary care physician, and after describing his symptoms, his physician referred him to a sleep medicine specialist for further workup. The sleep medicine specialist ordered a sleep study, and it turned out that my father did have OSA. Obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed by a polysomnography, commonly referred to as a sleep study. A sleep study can be performed at home or at a sleep center. The sleep study looks at brain activity, heart rate, breathing patterns and eye movement during sleep in order to diagnose OSA.   

What are the treatment options if I have obstructive sleep apnea?

For patients with OSA who are overweight or obese, weight loss and regular exercise can significantly help treat their OSA. Other lifestyle changes to help OSA include sleeping on your side and avoiding alcohol and sedating medications. The main treatment for OSA is positive airway pressure therapy, more commonly referred to as CPAP. A CPAP machine prevents interruptions in breathing by maintaining a positive pressure in your airway, preventing a collapse in that airway.

Can a CPAP really change my life?

“That was the best night of sleep I have had in years,” said my father. After he was diagnosed with OSA, he was placed on a CPAP machine. He slept the same number of hours every night. However, the quality of his sleep increased dramatically. For the first time in years, he was waking up with energy and didn’t feel extremely tired throughout the day. He was finally able to sit through an entire movie! When my dad goes out of town, the first thing he packs is his CPAP. He refuses to sleep without it because he has firsthand experience of the lifechanging effects of receiving quality sleep after being diagnosed with OSA. If you think you or a loved one may have OSA, I encourage you to talk to your primary care physician, because diagnosing and treating OSA can change your life, just like it did my dad’s!

Learn More

For additional information regarding OSA, click here. You can also visit this website. If you need a primary care provider, NGPG has a wide range of providers to fit your needs. Search for one and book an appointment online.