Could I have sleep apnea?
November 4, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the deal with my sleeping weirdnesses? Could I have sleep apnea? I'm 26, female, no more than 5 lbs overweight. I snore heavily but my fiance has never noticed me gasping for air or choking in the night.

I need a lot of sleep. I normally get 7-8 hours, but if undisturbed I could definitely sleep for 12-14 hours every night. I'm always tired when I wake up, no matter what. I feel drowsy at work and have on occasion dozed off while talking to my students. After work, if I lay down or even sit and read a book I fall asleep immediately and have trouble waking up. If I do nap, when I wake up my heart is usually beating hard and I feel out of breath (this only happens when I nap, not when I sleep through the night.) YANMD, yes, I just want to ask before I go to my doctor and mistakenly tell her I think I have sleep apnea.
posted by tatiana wishbone to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
Yes, you could. The only way to tell is to get a sleep study. The doctor is not just going to randomly start treating you for apnea before confirming you have it. Go talk to your doctor.
posted by brainmouse at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Lots of slender people have sleep apnea. It certainly sounds like your symptoms warrant getting it checked out. Good luck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2010

For what it's worth there are lots of sleep issues other than sleep apnea and the best way to start figuring out what is going on with you would be to participate in a sleep study.

You don't have to tell your doctor that you think you have sleep apnea, you can tell her that you are having sleep issues and describe your symptoms the way you have here. Tell her that you would like to be referred to a sleep study and see what she says.
posted by Kimberly at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding Kimberly... describe your symptoms thoroughly to a good GP. They'll judge whether a sleep study is appropriate or not. Although, in my I-Am-Not-A-Doctor opinion, unless you're suffering from, like, catastrophic anemia or something similarly serious, you will likely find your butt referred to a sleep study in very short order anyhows.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:51 PM on November 4, 2010

Rather than telling your physician that you have sleep apnea, it would probably better to say "I'm having a lot of trouble sleeping and would like to find out if there's some physiological cause."

That leaves the diagnosis to the expert and will probably be much more effective at getting you the care you need.
posted by valkyryn at 1:10 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You definitely need a sleep study. Thin people have sleep apnea, too. It could be obstructive or complex. Go to your GP, tell them your symptoms, and if they do not suggest a sleep study, get a second opinion.

I see a neurologist who specializes in sleep medicine for my sleep apnea, but ENTs also treat people with sleep apnea. They'll have a look around, give you the Epworth Sleepiness survey, and then send you for a sleep study to see what's going on.

Good luck!
posted by elsietheeel at 1:23 PM on November 4, 2010

Never tell your doctor you have something specific. Too many people try to self-diagnose their illnesses and sometimes that may throw the doctor down the wrong path. All you need to tell your doctor is what you told us. Mention nothing about sleep apnea because 9 times out of 10 you will be wrong unless you have gone through a long and laborious medical training.

There are only a few times when you should self diagnose a problem. That would be if you saw someone shoot you and are bleeding through a bullet-hole then you can tell the doctor that you were shot by a bullet. Of course the doctor will still have to identify if the problem is life threatening or not.
posted by JJ86 at 1:37 PM on November 4, 2010

Also, if I'm not mistaken, many insurance plans will charge little or nothing for sleep studies, as those count as preventative care. I highly recommend getting one.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2010

OP, you don't have to wake up gasping or choking for air to have sleep apnea. My husband used to have severe sleep apnea (based on results of at least one sleep study) and when we first began our relationship I would notice that he would be breathing along just fine, then suddenly, quietly, stop breathing for up to 30 SECONDS at a time without gasping or choking. At times he would stop breathing over and over again and there were many times when I would stay awake tapping him a little or shaking him a little to get his body to snap out of it and take a breath (a little tap always did the trick) .

He also had symptoms similar to yours whereby he was constantly tired throughout the day. Also, he snored so loud he would rock the house. Thank goodness I sleep like the dead and somehow could sleep through all that noise.

After a while he got a CPAP to force him to breathe and that was helpful. Then 2 years ago he had corrective surgery to open up his airway and ease his breathing. Now he snores much more quietly and sometimes not at all.

My husband is not overweight. He was just born with a small airway which limits his exchange of air while sleeping. We also know other people who are not overweight who also have sleep apnea.

Lastly, nthing not to self diagnose. Not to say you have one, but there exist sleep disorders of different stripes which can contribute to your symptoms. I second elsie's recommendation to see a sleep medicine specialist. Good luck.
posted by choochoo at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have sinus/congestion issues? Your symptoms sound very similar to mine. I haven't had a sleep study, but I had a CT scan of my sinuses and my ENT suggested that the issues I have with my sinuses are responsible for my poor sleep.
posted by curie at 2:22 PM on November 4, 2010

My dad has sleep apnea because, according to his specialist, he has a really big tongue. Nothing to do with his body weight whatsoever.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:38 PM on November 4, 2010

I had a sleep study done because I snore, according to my husband, all night nonstop. I figured that's why I never feel rested. the sleep study concluded that I don't have obstructive sleep apnea (in that my brain does get oxygen during the night), but I registered a lot of instances where I "woke up". So you can be a big ol' snorer and not get any sleep, but not necessarily have OSA. The onyl way to know is to talk to your doctor and see if they feel a sleep study is called for. I would be surprised if you didn't get a referral for it.

Weight is not an issue with my snoring. Rather, it has more to do with my physiology (how my neck is shaped, where my tongue sits, etc). Also, I got referred to a sinus specialist and I have nasal issues that aren't helping the situation either.

Definitely go to your doctor and tell her everything. Nothing wrong with mentioning that you are concerned about sleep apnea - she won't know if it's sleep apnea or not until you get that sleep study done.

Good luck! Believe me, I know how hard it is to have sleep issues, I hope you find a solution.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:44 PM on November 4, 2010

I wanted to add - all the things you describe - falling asleep during normal activities, etc, are things my doctor asked me during my workup. I don't fall asleep during the day and I got a referral for a sleep study anyway. So I think you are a really good candidate.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm female, 29, not overweight, and have been recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. (Mine is considered "mild"). I had a sleep study for the diagnosis.

I did have to have an argument with the ENT I got sent to after the sleep study, who did think maybe it's weight related (kind of silly, as I'm not overweight, not even by the BMI standards which are a bit bizarre anyhow). I think that's because he didn't find anything else wrong (no obvious obstructions).

My primary care physician says it's mild enough that if I'm sure to control my allergies so my airway isn't swollen, I probably wont' need a CPAP. But it's sure nice to know I'm not just lazy for wanting to sleep >10 hrs a night! Also if you do have sleep issues it's probably a good idea to have a baseline sleep study-- so fi in the future your problems get worse, you've got somethign to compare to.
posted by nat at 2:54 PM on November 4, 2010

Get a sleep study. Those are the symptoms my husband had and he has it. (The fact you snore heavily is also a sign, even if you aren't gasping for air. My husband's started out just as really loud snoring and then progressed to the gasping. They ended his sleepstudy halfway and slapped a cpap machine on him because it was too dangerous to have him continue.)

Get a sleep study as soon as you possibly can. People can and do die from this-even if only because they fall asleep at the wheel-but if it goes on it can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:06 PM on November 4, 2010

I have narcolepsy and until I was diagnosed (6 years ago), I would sleep constantly. Since I was a child, my parents say. 12-16 hours no problem. Other narcoleptics don't necessarily sleep undisturbed, though. I would fall asleep at work, while driving, etc.
I mentioned my sleep issues over the years to several of my PCPs and they basically just told me to take vitamins and asked if I was depressed.
I finally had a PCP and after I told him that I fell asleep driving and at work, he seemed concerned and sent me to a "sleep doctor".
I had a sleep study done and then was diagnosed with narcolepsy.

As for sleep apnea, it doesn't matter how much you weigh. I know several people with sleep apnea and some are skinny and others obese. They are also often tired during the day because their sleep is interrupted as well.

Read up on the symptoms of sleep apnea and narcolepsy and see if you notice any other symptoms. You may not have all the symptoms but it's good to get an idea.

This could also be a symptom of another health problem such as a thyroid condition. Ask for complete blood work to be done along with a sleep study/referral.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:42 PM on November 4, 2010

Sleep apnea is thought to be hereditary in some cases as well. Do you know if any of your relatives have it? My father, brother and grandfather all have it, and they all do exactly what choochoo described - they totally stop breathing for seconds at a time while asleep. My grandmother and mom have both talked about being scared out of their wits by it when they first got married.
posted by backwards compatible at 6:18 PM on November 4, 2010

While you're at it, get your blood pressure checked as well. Low BP can mess up circulation and hence sleep patterns.
posted by 5Q7 at 8:01 PM on November 4, 2010

I have been tired all my life and I thought I was just lazy. It turned out I have nocturnal epilepsy. Talk to your doctor!
posted by sunnichka at 10:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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