It can be very easy to dismiss a lack of sleep as just the by-product of the stresses and strains of modern life. However, if you are often fatigued through the day, are struggling to concentrate or find yourself increasingly irritable then you may be suffering with sleep apnea.

This is a disorder which causes interruptions to your breathing during the night, forcing the brain to react and wake you up for air. Although you may not recall these events, or apneas, your partner most likely will, as you can awake sometimes gasping for air. Loud, regular snoring is also one of the main symptoms.

Without treatment sleep apnea can lead to serious health conditions including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, liver damage, type 2 diabetes and depression. Yet there are other effects and facts regarding sleep apnea about which many people may not be aware.

1. Lack of Awareness of the Disorder

Sleep apnea, of which obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, is far more prevalent than people realize. It is estimated 9% of women and 24% of men have the disorder, yet 80% of people will remain undiagnosed.

This can be because the symptoms are broad and can be misinterpreted for other conditions such as insomnia, hypertension, fatigue due to overwork and hypothyroidism.

Without the correct diagnosis, there is no treatment — so the person is at increased risk for serious health issues.

2. Not Just Men

The stereotypical view of a sleep apnea sufferer can be that they are male, overweight with a large neck size and a loud snorer. There is no denying that anyone who falls in to this bracket is at increased risk from the disorder — and men tend to be affected more.

However, this stereotypical image changes quite dramatically as women reach menopausal age. At that point, they are equally at risk from sleep apnea as men as their hormone levels decline.

Another factor which can increase the chance of the disorder for women is pregnancy through weight and sleep pattern changes.

3. Insulin Resistance

One of the serious health risks which increases with sleep apnea is type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance and can result in an increase in blood sugar levels. This can lead to type 2 diabetes.

People who are feeling constantly fatigued can also eat more sugary foods for an energy boost, which can also increase blood sugar levels. Sleep apnea can influence a sufferer’s metabolism as they sleep, with other side effects including high blood pressure and high LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.

4. Asthma Symptoms Made Worse

Sleep deprivation and the resulting drop in blood oxygen levels can have an effect on respiratory conditions such as asthma, leading to an increase in shortness of breath.

Sleep apnea can also worsen acid reflux by reducing the ability of the esophagus to keep acid down in the stomach. Acid reflux when sleeping can therefore worsen asthma symptoms as the stomach acid rises up and irritates and inflames the airways.

5. Memory Loss

Recent research suggests consistent lack of sleep can affect the memory. As we sleep, the brain carries on, busy processing the day’s information and forming memories. Sleep is vital in making these memories stick.

One of the recognized symptoms of sleep apnea is poor concentration. Anyone who has had a bad night without much sleep will appreciate the fogginess this can bring the next day.

Accumulated nights of sleep deprivation can compound this and even lead to some memory loss.

6. Risk of Accidents

Fatigue as a result of sleep apnea can be damaging to both your personal and professional life. As much as we may try to plough on through the drowsiness there are potentially serious consequences.

Statistics suggest those with sleep apnea are 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident due to falling asleep at the wheel — caused by lack of sleep. Those deprived of sleep will also be less productive at work and more at risk of an industrial accident, both factors placing your employment at risk.

7. Test for Sleep Apnea at Home

If you think you might have sleep apnea, you can order a simple in-home test. Diagnosis is critical in receiving the appropriate treatment for your degree of the sleep disorder.

An in-home test can be sent to your house. The test involves wearing a clip on your finger for a night or two which is connected to a small monitor. As you sleep, your blood oxygen levels and heart rate are recorded — and once the test is complete, you just return it for analysis by trained sleep professionals.

Don’t ignore the symptoms

Sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems as your body (and brain) are being deprived of oxygen every night. Yet sleep apnea can be treated, so you can be productive (and alert) during the day — and decrease the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and other medical problems.

An in-home test is the simplest way to obtain a diagnosis. From there, you can work out a treatment plan with your doctor based on the diagnosis given.

Treatment can involve changes in lifestyle. With obesity being a major factor in sleep apnea, losing weight may be recommended by your doctor, as well as exercise and eating a more nutritional, balanced diet.

You may be advised to look at your bedroom to make sure your sleeping environment (and everyday sleep habits) are optimized to allow better sleep.

Other options include oral appliances and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, both of which help to keep the airways open to prevent them blocking. This should prevent the interruptions to the restorative sleep we all require.

The sleep experts with SleepQuest can coach you every step of the way, helping you get adjusted to your new lifestyle. They understand the changes you need to make — and the difficulties you might have during that time — and can help you adapt quickly.