A Solution for Sleep Apnea Sufferers 3:31

(CNN) -- If you're someone who wakes up the whole house with your snoring, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially dangerous disorder in which people stop breathing for 10 seconds or more at a time.

This condition has been linked to reduced brain volume, damage to the brain's white matter communication pathway, and even a three-fold increased risk of dying from any cause. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and even premature death, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

However, even if you're a snoring star, you may not know you have obstructive sleep apnea unless someone tells you about your nighttime roars. That's why it's important for partners and friends to talk to and encourage snorers to seek professional help.

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But what if, in addition to snoring, you have a strange or unusual symptom? You and your loved ones may not know you're in danger, and the disease could remain undiagnosed for years.

"More than 30 million people suffer from sleep apnea in the United States, but it's often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed," says Raj Dasgupta, M.D., a pulmonologist and sleep specialist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

"It's actually misdiagnosed more often in women than in men, because women may not have the classic, outsized snoring that men tend to have," she explains.


Here are five strange signs of obstructive sleep apnea to look out for, according to Dasgupta.

Night sweats

There are many reasons why people may sweat at night. It could be too hot, especially with the persistent heat waves of recent years due to the climate crisis. Certain medications can cause night sweats, as can cancer, thyroid problems, the flu and bacterial infections, and the onset of menopausal symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But research has shown that about 30% of people with obstructive sleep apnea have reported night sweats, Dasgupta said.

"Because the body doesn't get enough oxygen, it goes into a sympathetic fight-or-flight mode, which triggers night sweats," he explains. "The research showed that people with OSA who had night sweats were also more likely to have really low oxygen levels, as well as having obstructive sleep apnea."

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Frequent awakenings

Many people get up at night to empty their bladder. This can be due to too much alcohol, diabetes, edema, high blood pressure, certain medications, pregnancy, prostate problems, and even drinking too many fluids before bed, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

But getting up at least twice a night to urinate, a condition called nocturia, can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, Dasgupta says.

"One study found that about 50 percent of OSA patients had nocturia, and found that treatment of the sleep disorder reduced arousals," he says.

However, primary care visits don't typically ask about frequent nighttime urination on sleep apnea screening questionnaires, Dasgupta says.

Teeth grinding

Grinding or clenching your teeth while sleeping is called bruxism, and it can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, Dasgupta said.

"Certainly, anxiety and other factors can cause bruxism, but a common cause is obstructive sleep apnea," he said. "There's a theory why: the airways become obstructed and the muscles in the mouth and jaw move to try to release them. It hasn't been proven, but it's an interesting hypothesis."

Most people who grind or clench their teeth use a mouthguard suggested by their dentist to protect themselves, but it doesn't protect the jaw, Dasgupta explains.

"So a person could also develop TMJ (dysfunction), which is pain in the temporomandibular joint, and that can also lead to other problems, such as headaches," he said.

Morning headaches

According to Dasgupta, studies found a link between obstructive sleep apnea and waking up with a headache.

"They usually occur daily or most days of the week and can last for several hours after waking up in the morning," he said. "The cause of headaches is not well established and may be multifactorial."

Headaches caused by obstructive sleep apnea do not appear to cause nausea or increased sensitivity to light and sound. Instead, they appear to be a feeling of pressure on both sides of the forehead that lasts about 30 minutes, according to a June 2015 study.

Depression, fatigue, and insomnia

Some symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can disguise themselves as mental health problems, brain confusion or other sleep problems, Dasgupta said.

"Sleep affects our ability to think, react, remember and solve problems," he said. "Especially women have a tendency not to report atypical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue and depression."

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If obstructive sleep apnea wakes you up, it can be hard to fall back asleep. A person may suspect that they are suffering from insomnia, not realizing that a different problem may be triggering the awakenings.

Symptoms of daytime fatigue include a lack of motivation to perform everyday tasks, lack of productivity at work, memory problems, and poor interest in social relationships, Dasgupta explains.

They're also signs of depression, so if sleep problems aren't raised at a doctor's visit, the underlying cause may go unnoticed.

Sleep problems