How Do I Know If I Have Sleep Apnea?

Updated on March 21, 2020
NateB11 profile image

Like most people, I'm concerned with the practical needs of everyday life, and therefore research issues of health and livelihood.

You might not actually be getting sleep at night and it might be affecting you during the day.
You might not actually be getting sleep at night and it might be affecting you during the day. | Source

When I First Sought Help for My Sleep Problems

I went to the local clinic because I couldn't sleep at night. I couldn't breathe during the day, couldn't breathe when I was falling asleep, and couldn't breathe when I was sleeping. I'd wake up early and couldn't get back to sleep. All day, I was ready to fall asleep. There was more, but later for that.

I came to the clinic with a painful cough, congestion, and extreme fatigue. They measured my oxygen with a pulsometer and it was dangerously low. Too low. They had to send me to the hospital. They said when I left the clinic I had to go straight to the hospital or sign some paper saying I'm not going to go to the hospital; some liability issue I suppose, but the point is, my condition was so bad that I had to go to the hospital.

At the hospital, they also checked my oxygen (and vitals, of course), and immediately put a cannula on me (that's the name of the tube that goes in your nostrils, I learned later) and sent me out to the lobby with a tank of oxygen.

Okay, what's wrong with me?

At any rate, they had to hospitalize me. I was admitted right away because they couldn't bring my oxygen up.

Not going to lie. The hospital stay was nice. I hadn't had that kind of rest in a long time. Nor had I been able to breathe like that in a long time.

The first night they put me on a BiPap machine, which basically forces air into your mouth and nose. Ironically, it feels like you're suffocating when you're using it. At first. Then you get used to it. Then you finally get some sleep.

Sleep Study

My doctor had me do a sleep study. I went to his office, he has rooms, each with a bed and TV and equipment for taking data about bodily and brain activity when you sleep.

  1. The technologist puts wires on your legs, body, head (to measure brain activity), a cannula in your nose (to measure breathing, not oxygen) and a pulsometer on your finger to measure your oxygen.
  2. When you can, you sleep, and the technologist finds out what your brain and body do when you sleep.


Long story short, it turns out I couldn't even get past two stages of sleep when I slept without a CPAP machine. To clarify, in sleep, you normally go through three stages of sleep, then go into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and then you go into a deep sleep where you actually get rest. So, I was not getting any rest. When they put me on the CPAP, the machine that puts air into your mouth and nose so that you can breathe, I very quickly went into REM because the brain and body were starving for it.

I hadn't been getting any sleep this whole time. I was, normally, going through the day, going to work, with no sleep, essentially. I would fall asleep at work, fall asleep when I was at home watching TV in the early evening; on the weekends, I would get up early and soon fall asleep again and more or less sleep my weekend away. All day, I was tired, couldn't do much without being exhausted and being short of breath. It was debilitating.

Sleep Apnea can make you extremely sleepy during the day and cause you to fall asleep while working or just sitting watching TV.
Sleep Apnea can make you extremely sleepy during the day and cause you to fall asleep while working or just sitting watching TV. | Source

I Had Trouble Breathing

Before I went to the doctor, when I would try to go to sleep, I would start gasping for air before I would even get to sleep. I would not be able to sleep, I might get a little sleep sitting in a recliner. When I caught a cold it would get worse, and my colds seemed to turn into infections. In fact, Pneumonia is what landed me in the hospital; the combination of Sleep Apnea, Pneumonia and I also have Asthma, seemed to drop my oxygen to a dangerously low percentage. I couldn't do simple things without running out of breath.

I would be short of breath doing things like walking very short distances, picking something up off the ground, closing the car door (seriously, that bad).

Suffice to say, I was confused and shocked by the fact that I was so limited and debilitated. So, if you're experiencing a similar shock for the same reasons, you might have Sleep Apnea.

My Hands Trembled, and I Dropped Things

All of a sudden I was dropping things out of nowhere: my coffee cup, a spoon, a pen. My hands would tremble and my arms would spasm. Why? I couldn't figure it out. But I did think it had to do with my lack of sleep. I felt like my body was always trying to fall asleep, as if I was always starved for rest (which I was).

My Concentration and Memory Worsened

I notice I was having trouble concentrating and remembering things too. I'd miss cut-offs when driving to work, wouldn't be able to remember what I was doing in the middle of tasks. I was exhausted and lack of oxygen was affecting my brain.

I Was Irritable

On more than one occasion, I lost my temper. Over relatively trivial things too; minor annoyances. Again, I think I was mostly exhausted and the brain didn't have the energy to deal with things properly.

I Had Headaches

I had a headache every time I woke up in the morning. Again, this must be due to the lack of oxygen for the brain and the general lack of rest.

Sleep Apnea can cause you to have morning headaches.
Sleep Apnea can cause you to have morning headaches. | Source

It's Important to See a Doctor

Bottom line, if you have trouble sleeping, especially if you are gasping for air when falling asleep or you wake up gasping for air, it is likely a good idea to tell your doctor and see if you need to do a sleep study.

I do know it's a load off my mind to at least know what's happening. Of course, you will also be on the road to a remedy in the form of the CPAP so that you can finally breathe and get rest at night and have complete days without having to worry about falling asleep in the middle of work or trying to watch your favorite show on TV. And maybe you'll be able to enjoy the weekend without just sleeping through it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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