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5 Possible Sleep Apnea Symptoms You Probably Didn't Know

By Manjari Bansal
Medically Reviewed by Lisa Shives, MD, FAASM on August 30, 2021
Sleep apnea can cause snoring, gasping, or choking sounds during sleep. Find out more about the symptoms of this condition.

Snoring loudly and frequently feeling sleepy during the day are both signs of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes repeated interruptions to your breathing during sleep. Here are five symptoms of the condition you should be familiar with.

Loud Snoring

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, but not all snoring indicates that you have sleep apnea. Snoring is likely to be associated with sleep apnea when it is accompanied by silent pauses in breathing, choking, or gasping sounds.

“Snoring is caused by the rattling and vibration of tissues near the airway in the back of the throat,” Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring followed by a period of silence where breathing stops or nearly stops. Noisy snoring is usually a warning sign that your upper airway might be obstructed,” Schiff says.

Choking or Gasping Sounds

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep apnea causes your airway to become blocked repeatedly while you are sleeping. This reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your brain and leads to episodes of sudden awakening, gasping for air, or choking during sleep.

“With obstructive sleep apnea, there are obstructions in the airway and could cause hundreds of interruptions to breathing during one night alone,” Robert Berry, DDS, a dentist at Mountain Aire Dentistry in Colorado, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“With these obstructions, patients could begin choking or find themselves gasping for air while sleeping,” Berry explains.

Disrupted Sleep

The breathing disruptions that sleep apnea causes will typically affect the quality of your sleep

“This is where a person has trouble falling and staying asleep. They often toss and turn and wake up many times over the course of the night,” Berry says.

Importantly, the Sleep Foundation notes that it's also possible to be unaware of these sleep disruptions until you are evaluated by a professional. 

Daytime Sleepiness

The Sleep Foundation also reports that excessive daytime sleepiness affects nearly 10% to 20% of Americans, and sleep apnea can be one possible cause. With this condition, you may struggle to stay alert and experience a strong urge to sleep during the day.

“Due to the pattern of repeated sleep interruptions and poor quality of sleep, it impairs your ability to reach the desired deep and restful phases of sleep, making you feel sleepy during your waking hours–regardless of how many hours you slept,” Schiff explains.

Constant Lethargy

Interruptions to your sleep cycle can have a chronic effect on your energy levels. 

“If you have untreated sleep apnea, you might not be aware that you’re likely waking up multiple times throughout the night and not getting the full 7-9 hours of recommended sleep,” Carlos M. Nunez, MD, chief medical officer at ResMed, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “This can cause you to feel tired throughout the day.”

Think you may have sleep apnea? You can start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.