Sleep apnea is notoriously difficult to self-diagnose since you are, by definition, not awake when the breathing pauses occur.
Similarly, snoring is often associated with sleep apnea but it’s not a clear diagnosis.
Researchers have always believed that daytime sleepiness is one of sleep apnea’s most common symptoms, and that this can serve as an indication that you might be a sufferer.
But a new study in the Journal Chest has now proven that it actually is not a symptom of sleep apnea at all.
Instead, there are three other factors that clearly indicate that you suffer sleep apnea.
The researchers wanted to compare short sleep duration and sleep apnea and their effects on diabetes, cardiovascular health, daytime sleepiness, and anxiety and depressive symptoms. This was to see which was actually responsible for the worst consequences.
They collected the medical data of 2,064 Brazilian adults who had participated in the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health. This included a full medical examination, home sleep monitoring, a motor movement sensor to measure rest and activity, and a sleep questionnaire.
The participants were classified as having sleep apnea if they experienced more than 15 breathing pauses per hour, and as having a short sleep duration if they slept an average of fewer than six hours per 24-hour day.
32.9 percent of them suffered from sleep apnea and 27.2 percent were short sleepers. Compared to their peers, the short sleepers were found to be 44 percent more likely to struggle with daytime sleepiness.
However, the most surprising finding was that people with sleep apnea were not more likely to be sleepy during the day, as originally thought by most scientists and medical practitioners.
While they did find that people with sleep apnea were 10% more likely than the other participants to be sleepy during the day, this finding was not statistically significant, which meant that the researchers could not rule out that the daytime sleepiness occurred randomly rather than being a direct cause of sleep apnea.
One of the causes of this lack of statistical significance may have been that participants had to rate their own daytime sleepiness on a questionnaire. It is possible that some people who were only slightly sleepy might have reported themselves as sleepy, while others with mild sleepiness would have rated themselves as fine.
Regarding the other symptoms, people with sleep apnea were found to be worse off than short sleepers were.
Compared to people without sleep apnea, people with this sleep breathing disorder were 3.9 times more likely to be obese, 31 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and 24 percent more likely to have high cholesterol or other fats in their blood.
However, Short sleeping did not have an effect on these three health indicators. This is somewhat surprising, as many previous studies have linked short sleeping with obesity and these heart problems.
Yet, the conclusions of this study may have differed from previous studies because they did not require participants to rate their own sleep duration on a questionnaire, instead opting to test for it objectively via a wrist-worn device.