The definition of mild sleep apnea is, put in its most basic terms, the least-advanced form of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). But you can probably tell that just from its name. The real questions are: Does mild sleep apnea represent a serious health risk? And what are the symptoms of mild sleep apnea you should look out for?
Because mild sleep apnea means your sleep isn’t interrupted as often as with more severe cases of sleep apnea, it can be harder to know if you have it. Nonetheless, people who have (or who think they have) even a mild form of sleep apnea should be aware of the symptoms and risks, as well as the steps they can take to treat the condition — and prevent it from becoming something more serious.
Let’s begin with the clinical mild sleep apnea definition. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) generally falls into one of three categories: Mild, moderate and severe. (We’ve already discussed the dangers of severe sleep apnea.)
On a case-by-cases basis, whether sleep apnea is regarded as mild, moderate or severe is determined based on how many times breathing stops when you’re asleep. These breathing interruptions are called “apneas” — a word derived from a Greek term that literally means a stop in breathing.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep that’s interrupted five to 15 times per hour is defined as mild sleep apnea. Fifteen to 30 so-called “events” are rated as moderate sleep apnea, and the presence of more than 30 events per night is classified as severe sleep apnea.
That mild sleep apnea definition is how medical professionals can tell you have sleep apnea based on a sleep test. But if you haven’t yet taken a sleep test — and aren’t sure you even need to take one — what are some of the basic mild sleep apnea symptoms you can look for, in the meantime?
Do you snore? Many people snore. On its own, this isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. But if your snoring is consistent (and loud) enough to make your loved ones complain, it may be a sign of sleep apnea.
How sleepy do you feel? Whether you realize it or not, if you have mild sleep apnea your sleep is being interrupted constantly throughout the night. That often results in feeling sleepy during the day. This feeling of sleepiness can also seem like a lack of energy or general drowsiness.
Do you have high blood pressure or other medical conditions? If you have high blood pressure — and especially if it’s a new development — or you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea. Read more about sleep apnea comorbidities here.
So, as we’ve seen above, mild sleep apnea involves fewer interruptions than severe sleep apnea. All the same, it can still cause as many as 15 sleep interruptions every hour. That’s a lot of times to have your sleep disrupted every night, and it stands to reason that anyone with mild sleep apnea would want to work to prevent it.
But does that mean using CPAP or other sleep apnea treatment equipment? Read our post on some of the more common mild sleep apnea treatment options.
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