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4 Possible Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

By Kristen Gasnick
Medically Reviewed by Lisa Shives, MD, PC on August 30, 2021
Obstructive sleep apnea can significantly impact your quality of life and ability to sleep through the night. Recognizing common symptoms can help determine a diagnosis and the right treatment.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition caused by the blockage of airways during sleep, which results in repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night. It's possible to have the disorder without knowing it, but recognizing the following four symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea could help you get the treatment that you need.

Sleepiness and Tiredness

When the breathing airways are partially or completely blocked due to obstructive sleep apnea, there are periods of time that can last between ten and twenty seconds during which oxygen levels in the body drop, according to the American Sleep Association. During these episodes, the body will respond by waking your brain up momentarily to restart breathing. 

While this awakening is often so short you will not remember it, it can occur over thirty times an hour throughout the night and significantly disrupt deep sleep. Because your normal sleep cycle is being disrupted repeatedly, you may often wake up feeling extremely tired and continue to feel sleepy throughout the day.

“Having multiple micro-awakenings throughout the night keeps the individual from cycling into the deep, refreshing stages of sleep, leaving them feeling unrested the next day,” Chelsie Rohrscheib, PhD, sleep specialist and neuroscientist at Wesper, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Cognitive Changes

Obstructive sleep apnea causes you to wake up several times throughout the night because you are not breathing properly, and the lack of restful sleep that results can make it difficult to focus and concentrate throughout the day. Lack of restful sleep can also cause irritability and mood changes. 

“Since sleep apnea sufferers aren't getting enough quality sleep, they are chronically sleep-deprived, and this results in poor attention and focus, reduced memory retention and recall, and poor mood regulation,” Rohrscheib says. “Mental illness, especially mood disorders like depression and anxiety, are also very common in sleep apnea patients.”


Because the airways are either partially or completely blocked, snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea that causes noisy breathing as air passes through the obstructed breathing passageways during sleep. Because you may sleep with your mouth open to try to breathe better, you may also experience a dry mouth or sore throat in the morning upon waking.

Gasping for Air During the Night

Due to blocked airways, it may be difficult for you to breathe at night when you sleep. It’s common for people with obstructive sleep apnea to wake up during the middle of the night feeling like they are choking or gasping for air.

“Gasping for air is also a very common symptom and is most often reported by the partner of the obstructive sleep apnea sufferer,” Rohrscheib says. “It's not uncommon for the gasping to be accompanied by a choking sensation and it often wakes the sufferer up.”

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.