If you find yourself endlessly hitting the snooze button each day, it's tempting to conclude the problem is lack of motivation or staying up too late. Nighttime breathing problems, though, can keep you up at night even when you're not consciously aware that you're waking. Sleep apnea is the most common cause of such difficulties, but conditions such as asthma, allergies, and even a deviated septum can interfere with your ability to breathe, and therefore your ability to sleep. Before you pop a sleeping pill, talk to your doctor to determine if you might be vulnerable to nighttime breathing problems.
How Nighttime Breathing Problems Affect Sleep
When your body can't get enough oxygen, it also can't get enough sleep. Suffocation is a serious danger, so everyone is born with brain mechanisms that wake them when they can't breathe. These brief moments of wakefulness, though, are so short that you may never become fully conscious, which means you likely wont' remember waking. Some people with sleep apnea manage to wake hundreds of times during the night without ever remembering the experience.
Risk Factors for Nighttime Breathing Problems
A number of personal, environmental, and hereditary risk factors can increase your likelihood of nighttime breathing problems. Sleep apnea, for example, is most common among people who are overweight, while young people are more likely to suffer from nighttime asthma reactions. If you experience several of these risk factors, it strongly suggests you may eventually develop a nighttime sleep disorder:
- Drinking or using drugs before bed
- A history of breathing problems, including allergies
- A family member who has nighttime sleep problems, especially sleep apnea
- Being obese
- Living in unhealthy or unsanitary living conditions. For example, people who live in high-smog areas are more likely to have breathing difficulties.
- Cardiovascular or circulatory problems
- Taking sleeping medication
Symptoms of Nighttime Breathing Problems
If you wait until you catch yourself waking up at night, you'll be waiting forever. Instead, carefully monitor yourself for common symptoms of nighttime breathing difficulties, then talk to your doctor. Some common symptoms that you're having trouble breathing at night include:
- Waking up with a very dry mouth or throat
- Unexplained oral health problems
- Throat, neck, or jaw pain in the morning
- Waking up congested
- Not dreaming when you sleep
- A history of exhaustion even when you get sufficient sleep
- Nosebleeds and other sinus health problems
- Having a condition, such as asthma, congestive heart failure, or allergies, that inhibits your ability to breathe normally
People with sleep-related breathing difficulties can suffer a 50% loss in oxygen at night. These conditions are serious, and even potentially life-threatening. Seek the assistance of a doctor before your symptoms escalate out of control.