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Sleep Apnea Can Affect You Night and Day

By Navatha Kurugundla, MD

When obstructive sleep apnea prevents you from getting a good night’s rest, it can wreak havoc on your day.

And over time, if left untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences.

If you snore loudly while you sleep and wake up groggy in the morning, you should talk with your doctor about sleep apnea to determine if testing and treatment are necessary.

The specialists at the Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center provide comprehensive care, including diagnosis and treatment, for obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that involves the repeated collapse of the upper airway during sleep. When this occurs, it interrupts your breathing and causes you to gasp for air, waking you up briefly to unblock your airway.

In many cases, this happens multiple times in one night, disrupting your sleep and depriving your body — and brain — of the oxygen needed to heal and repair itself while you rest.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects nearly 30 million adults in the United States, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and an estimated 80% of these cases are undiagnosed.

Without treatment, obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk for major health problems such as heart attack, stroke, hypertension, and arrhythmias. Additionally, sleep apnea can lead to poor performance at work and school and can increase your risk for auto accidents.

Are You at Risk?

While anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, one of the major risk factors is being overweight. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if you have a body mass index of 30 or higher, your risk for obstructive sleep apnea increases.

In addition, a large neck size — 17 or more inches for men and 16 or more inches for women — also increases your risk.

Obstructive sleep apnea is also more common in men than women.

Some people may experience obstructive sleep apnea only when they sleep on their backs. This is referred to as positional obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring a Common Symptom

While snoring is the most common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, not everyone who snores has obstructive sleep apnea. Other common symptoms include:

  • Pauses in breathing or gasping for breath while you sleep.
  • Silent pauses in breathing.
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
  • Unrefreshing or restless sleep.
  • Insomnia.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Waking frequently to use the bathroom.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Trouble with memory.
  • Decreased sexual desire.
  • Irritability.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk with your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing sleep apnea typically involves a sleep study, which can often be performed at home.

During the study, your breathing, oxygen saturation, and heart rate are monitored while you sleep.

The results of the sleep study will help your doctor determine whether you have obstructive sleep apnea and the severity of the condition.

If obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed, there are several effective treatment options available.

The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a mask over your nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is connected to a machine that delivers a constant stream of air to keep your airway open.

Oral appliances similar to mouth guards are also available to help reposition the jaw and keep the airways open during sleep.

In addition, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, can also help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea.

If you experience sleep apnea primarily when sleeping on your back, special devices may be prescribed to keep you sleeping on your side.

A Pacemaker for Your Airway

For certain people whose sleep apnea does not improve with conservative measures, surgical intervention to stimulate the upper airway may be recommended.

With this approach, a small device similar to a pacemaker is implanted in your chest wall. A wire then goes up to a nerve that stimulates your tongue to gently move forward during sleep to maintain an open airway and promote regular breathing.

Not everyone is a candidate for upper airway stimulation. If your obstructive sleep apnea occurs because your tongue blocks your airway, this approach may be appropriate. If your airway collapses all around, upper airway stimulation is typically not recommended.

Don’t let obstructive sleep apnea rob you of a good night’s sleep and ruin your day. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms to find a treatment approach that is right for you.

To find a physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health or to learn more about the Sleep Center at Princeton Medical Center, call (888) 742-7496, or visit

Navatha Kurugundla, MD, is board certified in sleep medicine, pulmonary disease, internal medicine, and critical care medicine. She is a member of the Medical Staff at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

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