Daytime sleepiness: Is it a sign of sleep apnea?

Daytime sleepiness is a key sign of sleep apnea, ranking right next to snoring and insomnia as one of the more common symptoms that lead people to seek diagnosis for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Everyone experiences occasional daytime sleepiness – those of us trying to juggle the demands of family, work and daily responsibilities know that it’s not always possible to get those recommended eight hours of sleep every night. But if you feel drowsy during the day on a regular basis, despite no real change in your daytime habits or schedule, it’s time to talk to your doctor about taking a sleep test.

Why? As you may know, sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts not only your sleep but also your day-to-day lifestyle, and can lead to serious health problems if not properly treated.

Sleep apnea is caused when your airway is obstructed, which pauses your breathing throughout the night. You may not awaken when this happens – or, more likely, you may awaken and not remember it – but either way, your sleep is disrupted, and the result is you wake up feeling drowsy and low on energy. Worse than daytime sleepiness, untreated OSA can also increase the risk of more serious health problems like high blood pressure, obesity and even heart failure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).1

Does your daytime sleepiness mean you have sleep apnea?

Not necessarily – but sleep apnea is the prime suspect for those who suffer ongoing daytime sleepiness. So, make that doctor’s appointment. Your doctor will most likely refer you to a sleep test. Here, you’ll be tested for additional signs of sleep apnea. The sleep test is fast, easy and painless, and there are home testing options for those unable or unwilling to undergo diagnosis at a sleep facility. (Find out if there’s a sleep test facility near where you live.)

If you are eventually diagnosed with OSA, you’ll have a range of treatment options. Your doctor will work with you to recommend the course that best suits your specific sleep needs, as well as your personal comfort level.

The three most common sleep apnea treatments are:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Recommended by most doctors as the most effective sleep apnea treatment option, CPAP therapy is safe and noninvasive – no drugs or surgery required.
  • Oral and dental appliances. Best for patients with mild sleep apnea, oral appliances are small acrylic devices that help keep your airway open while you sleep.
  • Weight loss. Regardless of what symptoms and signs of sleep apnea you may have, achieving your ideal weight is a good idea to improve your health in general.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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