man sleeping in bed with his mouth openMany people in Detroit know that snoring is associated with sleep apnea. This makes people think that snoring is the main warning sign of sleep apnea that they should watch out for. This leads them to wonder how they can know if they have sleep apnea when they live alone.

It’s true that snoring is a common warning of sleep apnea, especially if your snoring ends in gasping and choking. However, sleep apnea has numerous signs and symptoms that can tell you you likely have the condition.

Here are some of the more common ones to watch out for when you live alone. If you have more than one of these symptoms on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor.

Waking up with a Dry Mouth or Sore Throat

When your body is desperate for air, it changes the way you sleep. When you have obstructive sleep apnea, one of the most common ways the body tries to get more air is by breathing through your mouth. This can lead to your mouth and throat drying out overnight. If you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth or scratchy throat, then it’s likely that you were breathing through your mouth, which might be a sign that you have sleep apnea.

Daytime Sleepiness

Probably the most noticeable warning sign of sleep apnea–other than snoring–is daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea can interrupt your sleep hundreds of times a night, preventing you from getting much in the way of rest. Even if you can technically piece together six hours of sleep, the frequent awakenings prevent you from reaching the deeper, restorative levels of sleep your body and mind need.

As a result, you will likely experience daytime sleepiness when you have sleep apnea. You should suspect sleep apnea when you experience the following after what you think is a full night’s sleep:

  • Dozing off at work or while driving
  • Waking up unrested in the morning
  • Relying on caffeine to get through the day
  • Dozing off while reading or watching TV

If you only experience the above when you have a night of short sleep or have disturbed sleep due to alcohol consumption or other causes, it is less likely to be sleep apnea.

Morning Headaches

Morning headaches are relatively common in people with sleep apnea. More than half of all sleep apnea sufferers experience them, and they can experience them on most mornings.

The classic sleep apnea headache is present when you first wake up but might improve within a half-hour of waking. However, many people with sleep apnea experience frequent migraines. If you commonly experience migraines, especially in the morning, you should suspect sleep apnea.

Waking Up Frequently at Night

Waking up frequently at night is part of the definition of sleep apnea. However, with sleep apnea, you might not realize that you’re doing it. Some people with severe sleep apnea might wake up 300 times a night but might never reach full wakefulness, so they don’t know they’re waking up.

When people do wake up, they might blame it on other causes, such as:

  • Choking
  • Nightmares
  • Urination

If you wake up choking, it’s probably because you were having an apneic attack and should talk to your doctor.

The relationship between nightmares and sleep apnea is less clear. Many people wake up from an apneic attack sweating and gasping with a pounding heart. It feels like waking up from a nightmare, although it’s closer to waking up from night terrors, according to the clinical definition. It’s not clear whether people with sleep apnea actually experience more nightmares.

Waking up frequently to urinate (nocturia) is strongly linked to sleep apnea. One theory is that an apneic attack puts pressure on the heart that the body interprets as having too much fluid, so it increases your need to urinate.

Painful Teeth or Jaws

While some people sleep with their mouths open because of sleep apnea, others do the opposite: clenching their teeth. The goal of jaw clenching is to reposition the jaw and use the jaw muscles to support the airway. It’s similar to what oral appliance therapy achieves, but without the appliance, it’s not always effective.

The result is that you might end up clenching your teeth for most of the night, which can lead to teeth and jaw pain. This is part of the reason why there’s a close connection between TMJ and sleep apnea.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you are at high risk for sleep apnea. While it’s possible that high blood pressure and sleep apnea go together because they’re both effects of obesity, it’s likely that sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure. During each apneic episode, the brain tells the heart to pump faster to send more oxygen to the brain. Over time, the heart keeps pumping harder, leading to permanently elevated blood pressure.

Even more strongly associated with sleep apnea is medication-resistant hypertension. If you are taking medications to lower blood pressure, but it’s not going down, it’s likely that you have sleep apnea.

Know for Sure with a Sleep Test in Detroit

The only way to know for sure if you have sleep apnea is to get a sleep test. If you have one or more of the symptoms above, you should talk to your doctor or schedule a consultation with sleep dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad about getting a sleep test. Often, you can take a sleep test in the comfort of your own bed.

Please call (248) 480-0085 or use our online form to request a consultation with Dr. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness in Rochester Hills, MI.