What Are The Most Common Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

You may have noticed that you husband/wife/sleep partner snores or stops breathing at night, so you are asking yourself if this is sleep apnea. This article describes the most common sleep apnea symptoms (to be precise, some of these may actually be more appropriately called "signs" rather than symptoms). As with any disease, every person presents with a slightly different picture and an individual may have one, some, or all of these sleep apnea symptoms. An interesting aspect of sleep apnea as a disease is that the patient is actually SLEEPING THROUGH these symptoms. So if you snore, you won't usually know about it unless you have a sleep partner that is actually not sleeping next to you but awake watching you. Because most sleep partners are sleeping, often these symptoms go unnoticed. Even if you only have one of these symptoms, you could still have sleep apnea, and the best course of action is to make an appointment with a sleep physician to further evaluate.


Snoring is one of the most common sleep apnea symptoms. It has been estimated that approximately 40% of the adult population snores. Patients with snoring are four times more likely to have sleep apnea, and it has been suggested that up to 30% of patients with snoring have sleep apnea. Thus one of the most telling sleep apnea symptoms is snoring. If you snore, you are definitely a candidate for a sleep apnea diagnosis. Interestingly, not everyone with sleep apnea snores, so if you don't snore you're not necessarily out of the woods.

Breathing Pauses While Sleeping

Breathing pauses while sleeping, referred to as witnessed apneas, are the most obvious visual clue that someone has sleep apnea. Although, surprisingly, many apneas are not noticed or witnessed. As sleep apnea symptoms go, if you have witnessed apneas, it's an almost sure bet that you have sleep apnea. However, a sleep study is still necessary to evaluate both the severity and type of events that you are experiencing.

Daytime Sleepiness

One of the cardinal sleep apnea symptoms is daytime sleepiness. However, not everyone with sleep apnea has daytime sleepiness. In fact, in the Wisconsin cohort study (one of the largest and frequently quoted sleep apnea studies) only 15.5% of men and 22.6% of women with at least mild sleep apnea reported sleepiness on three subjective measures. However, when using objective measures, sleepiness is much more common in sleep apnea patients. The important point is that sleepiness can occur in sleep apnea, but just because you're not sleepy doesn't mean you don't have sleep apnea.

Concentration and Memory

Many patients with sleep apnea complain that the most distressing of the sleep apnea symptoms is a difficulty with concentration and memory. Although a common complaint, the research on memory problems has yet to be fully explored, but deficits in concentration/attention have been careful researched. In fact, some studies show that attention and reaction time are so reduced as to render sleepy drivers worse than drunk drivers.

Night Sweats

On their initial interview, many of my patients report that they "sleep hot" or even have sweating in bed at night. They usually brush this off by saying that they "need less sheets" or just "sleep with the window open". What they don't realize is that night sweats are one of the prevalent sleep apnea symptoms. It makes logical sense that if you are struggling to breathe at night, you are working harder to breathe. Much like running an 8 hour marathon, this struggle to breathe causes your body to heat up and sweat. Hot sleepers frequently have sleep apnea.

Multiple Nighttime Awakenings

Oftentimes, sleep apnea masquerades as insomnia. This constant struggling to breath all night long can lead to an increased number of awakenings. Although your "choking" is what wakes you up, by the time your brain regains full consciousness, you have no recollection of the actual cause of that awakening. Thus, although seemingly spontaneous, these multiple nighttime awakenings can be one of the most insidious sleep apnea symptoms.

Nighttime Urination

Not only does sleep apnea cause multiple nighttime awakenings but it also causes increased urine production. This increases the probability that during any one of these awakenings, you will notice your bladder is full and get up to relieve yourself. In retrospect, many people blame the awakening on the full bladder, when in reality the awakening was caused by airway collapse and it just so happened that the bladder was also full. Unfortunately, many men with sleep apnea are mistakenly told that this is a prostate issue without realizing that nighttime urination can be one of the common sleep apnea symptoms.

Excess Movements at Night

The constant choking, snoring, and struggling to breathe at night can lead to much movement in bed. Thus, excess movements at night are the last in our list of sleep apnea symptoms. Sometimes patients are unaware of their movements and their sleep partner is sleeping through them. One clue is that the sheets on their side of the bed are "messed up".

As you can see, there are many varied sleep apnea symptoms. Again, you may have one, some or all of these symptoms and be diagnosed with sleep apnea. This is not a complete list. There are some less common symptoms that are not mentioned here and there are comorbid diseases like hypertension and diabetes that can further strengthen the diagnosis of sleep apnea. In the end, a thorough evaluation by a sleep physician as well as a sleep study are required to effectively diagnose and treat sleep apnea.

Disclaimer: As with all the content on this site, this article is to be viewed as educational only. In no way should this be construed as medical advice. If you are concerned that you might have a sleep disorder, make an appointment with a sleep physician for proper advice.