You have sleep apnea when your breathing is often blocked or partly blocked while you sleep. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of times an hour that you have less airflow to your lungs. Apnea may occur from 5 to 50 times an hour.
The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. Although doctors use sleep studies to diagnose both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea, this Decision Point focuses on obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the airways in your nose, mouth, or throat are blocked or become narrow. Everyone's throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep. But in some people, certain things can cause this normal process to partly or completely block the airway.
This can happen because:
Symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
Your bed partner may notice that while you sleep:
Snoring and lack of sleep from apnea can make it hard to get through the day. You may feel grouchy a lot and have trouble focusing on work and activities. If you snore, your bed partner also might not get enough sleep. This can make your relationship suffer.
A study in a qualified sleep lab is the only sure way to know if you have sleep apnea. Experts recommend an all-night sleep study called polysomnography (say "pawl-ee-sawm-NAW-gruh-fee").1
You might want a sleep study, because if you have sleep apnea and it's not found and treated, it can interfere with your quality of life. It can make you too sleepy when you should be awake.
It also is linked to problems such as:
Early treatment of sleep apnea can reduce your risk of these problems. It also can reduce your symptoms, such as headaches, snoring, and daytime sleepiness.
If you snore but don't have other symptoms, you may not need a sleep study. Lifestyle changes—such as losing weight (if needed), sleeping on your side, and going to bed at the same time every night—may reduce your snoring.
Treatment for sleep apnea can include:
Your doctor probably will have you try lifestyle changes and CPAP first. But surgery might be your first choice if your sleep apnea is caused by a blockage that can be fixed easily.
Research shows that treating sleep apnea can reduce daytime sleepiness.2, 3
It may also improve blood pressure.4, 5 For people who have sleep apnea and coronary artery disease, treatment of sleep apnea can lower the risk of some problems such as heart failure.6 People who have sleep apnea and diabetes may find that treating the sleep apnea makes it easier to control blood glucose levels. But if you have mild sleep apnea, treatment may not work as well as it can for people with more severe apnea.
Your doctor might recommend a sleep study if:
|Have a sleep study||Don't have a sleep study|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"My husband snores so much when he sleeps that he has been keeping me awake. I don't think that he has been sleeping well either, because sometimes he falls asleep when he is just talking to me. I discussed it with him, and we decided that he should have a sleep study to see if he has sleep apnea."
— Margaret, age 47
"Sometimes I snore so loudly that I wake myself from sleep. I am also tired during the day. I read somewhere that snoring could be a symptom of sleep apnea. I called my doctor and told her about my symptoms. She gave me a few tips to prevent snoring. I am going to try these methods first to see if they work before I think about having a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea."
— Jamal, age 37
"I have been a truck driver for almost 20 years. In the last 2 years I have almost had a few driving accidents because I have a hard time staying awake while driving. When I sleep at home, my wife says that I stop breathing while I sleep. I am going to have a sleep study to see if I have sleep apnea."
— Hal, age 41
"My partner says that sometimes I stop breathing while I am sleeping. Fortunately, I don't feel sleepy during the day. I talked with my doctor about my breathing problems because I think that I might have sleep apnea. She told me that it is common for older adults to have short lapses in breathing and that I probably don't need to have a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea unless I am having other problems."
— Frank, age 63
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to have a sleep study
Reasons not to have a sleep study
I want to do everything I can to find out why I'm snoring so much.
I want to just try things at home to reduce snoring.
My snoring is hurting my relationship.
My snoring isn't hurting my relationship.
I'm so tired during the day that I'm sleepy when I should be awake.
I'm not sleepy when I should be awake.
I'm willing to try a treatment like CPAP if I find out that I have sleep apnea.
I'm not willing to do anything more than lifestyle changes for sleep apnea.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Having a sleep study
NOT having a sleep study
1. Do all people who snore need a sleep study to see if they have sleep apnea?
2. Is a sleep study the only way to know for sure if you have sleep apnea?
3. Can sleep apnea lead to any other health problems?
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine|