Sleepiness is an important clue to the source of dizziness. Do you awaken in the night and have trouble falling back asleep? Are you sleepy during the day, drifting off during meetings? These are hints that your dizziness may be linked to your lack of sleep. Sleep apnea is a serious cause of these symptoms and can lead directly to dizziness.
Sleep apnea is diagnosed by finding pauses in breathing during sleep. Normal people may pause their breathing briefly a couple of times an hour, but a person with sleep apnea can do this for longer periods and from 5 times to more than 30 times each hour. During these pauses the oxygen level can fall throughout the body. If the pause lasts long enough, it can awaken the person suddenly, over and over as the night goes on. It causes serious health problems: high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart rhythm problems, and damage to the lining of the blood vessels.
Sleep apnea is usually treated with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a breathing machine that increases the air pressure in the airway to keep it from collapsing. This can reverse all the symptoms and prevent the damage described above. To determine whether you may benefit, ask yourself these questions:
Do you snore?
Snoring is more than just an annoying bedtime problem. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but it is an indicator that breathing is disrupted. During sleep the airway can relax too much and close in on itself. You may try to take a breath automatically while sleeping, but because the airway is closed off only choking or gasping results. You have to awaken a bit in order to get the airway opened up, and that destroys the quality of your sleep. You may not be aware this is happening. Ask your bed partner if you snore or if you make gasping or choking sounds during the night. If you do, you should have a sleep study to look for sleep apnea.
How heavy are you?
Fat can build up around the neck and inside the airway. It can also put pressure on the neck and chest, making it harder to expand when relaxed. The outcome can be airway collapse while asleep. While even thin or mildly overweight people can have sleep apnea, it’s much more common in people who are obese. A BMI of 28 or more is highly associated with sleep apnea.
Do you wake up with headaches?
The effects of sleep apnea on the vascular system leads to early morning headaches. These are relieved by treatment. If you are prone to migraines, sleep apnea can lead to aura, seeing shimmering lines in vision prior to a headache. Your headaches may become more frequent due to sleep apnea. Migraines that are caused by sleep apnea are often resistant to common migraine treatments, so if you are not responding, consider a sleep study.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what kinds of dizziness sleep apnea causes.