June is National Men’s Health Month. Get the facts about a significant health issue that may be unknowingly keeping you up at night.
Every morning, as alarm clocks blare in bedrooms across America, millions of adults will groggily reach for the snooze button, their bodies heavy with exhaustion. They’ve slept for seven, eight, nine hours but feel as tired as they did when they climbed into bed the night before. They’ll stumble into their day restless and irritated—most without even realizing it—while silently, the lack of quality sleep is wreaking havoc on their health.
The culprit? Sleep apnea, a disorder that affects an estimated 22 million Americans, the majority men—and most of them undiagnosed. What’s sometimes dismissed as a snoring habit is actually a serious ailment that can cause a cascade of health problems and leave a person gasping for breath as they sleep.
As we enter National Men’s Health Month, take the time to learn about the risk factors, symptoms and other serious effects of sleep apnea in men. The good news: It’s easily treatable—and restful sleep is possible.
Sleep apnea symptoms in men
Anyone can be affected by sleep apnea—women, teens, children. But men are two to three times more likely to have it than women. Most of those afflicted are middle-aged or older men who are overweight or obese.
A staggering 9 out of 10 adults, however, remain undiagnosed, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Every night, they stop breathing for 10 seconds or more at a time—sometimes dozens of times an hour, hundreds of times a night. Those loud snores are the result of their body laboring to pull in oxygen.
If you’re not someone who wakes himself up gasping for breath or choking on air—telltale signs you have stopped breathing and likely have sleep apnea—you may not realize you are suffering through these nighttime events. Here are a few signals you may have the disorder and need to get checked out by a doctor:
A history of loud snoring/snorting
If you have a sleep partner, you will likely know if this is a problem by their nudges and please to “roll over!” Being a snorer, however, does not mean you have sleep apnea, and not all people with sleep apnea snore. But if the person you share your bed with regales you with stories upon waking of how you stopped breathing in your sleep, only to start back up with a loud snort, you should get checked out.
You got the required number of hours of sleep—seven to nine, according to most experts—but you’re dragging during the day. You yearn to curl up in a ball under your desk and take a nap, and you fill and refill your cup with coffee to get through the day. You’re exhausted, seemingly without reason. Related, you have trouble concentrating and remembering things.
Waking up with a dry mouth/sore throat/headache
Since sleep apnea tends to make you breathe with an open mouth, which dries out your saliva, you may wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat. And morning headaches may be the result of those dips in oxygen when you stopped breathing at night.
Other potential consequences of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is not just a case of being sleepy; the effects of having untreated sleep apnea are critical. You’re at an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. You’re more likely to get diagnosed with depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Men are also at increased risk for having low testosterone, which causes its own set of problems.
And people with sleep apnea are not just a risk to themselves: They are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident.
The most important thing to remember is that sleep apnea is treatable. You just need to take the first step—get to the doctor. The benefits of getting it treated can turn your life around.