5 Sleep Apnea Myths You Need to Know About

February 3, 2022

Sleep apnea is a condition that is often thrown around in conversation. Commonly used to describe heavy snoring, many people know little about the disorder apart from that. However, widespread knowledge of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is absolutely essential, as it is estimated to impact nearly one billion people worldwide. Not only is it widespread, but OSA can also greatly affect one’s overall health and wellness. On top of presenting with life-altering symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, an inability to concentrate, and loud snoring, OSA is associated with a number of serious and chronic concerns, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, dementia, and stroke.

There is still relatively little known about sleep apnea among the general population. And alongside important facts that everyone should know about the disorder, there are also dozens of myths. Sifting through this misinformation can not only be overwhelming but also misleading, so we’re here to point out five important sleep apnea myths to be aware of. Let’s dive in!

Myth 1: Sleep Apnea Only Affects People Who Are Overweight

First, there is a common misconception that only overweight or obese individuals can have OSA. While obesity is a comorbidity associated with sleep apnea, it does not cause the sleep disorder. Likewise, OSA can affect anyone—not only those who can’t breathe well at night due to weight gain.

Being overweight is not a requirement for OSA; however, it can increase one’s risk of developing the disorder. This is because those who are overweight are more likely to develop fat deposits around the throat. These fat deposits can form around the upper airway and obstruct breathing. For these reasons, although those of all shapes and sizes could develop OSA, a healthy diet and the loss of a few pounds could help improve symptoms.

Myth 2: If You Snore, You Have Sleep Apnea. Everyone Who Has Sleep Apnea Snores.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by overly relaxed muscles in the back of the throat, which can block normal breathing. When these muscles become far too relaxed, important structures become soft and can obstruct the airway, making it more difficult to breathe well. Snoring can often occur as these muscles and structures soften and block the airway, causing rattling and harsh breathing. However, not everyone who has OSA snores.

Because snoring is the most well-known symptom associated with OSA, many people have also come to believe that you must snore in order to have sleep apnea. Similarly, it is often believed that every person who snores definitively has the disorder.

It’s true that many people with obstructive sleep apnea snore; however, like obesity, it is not a requirement for having the disorder. Nearly everyone snores every once in a while—whether it’s due to allergies, a cold, or sleeping in a strange position—and it does not necessarily mean that you have a serious sleep disorder.

Myth 3: Getting Evaluated for Sleep Apnea Is a Hassle

Once upon a time, being screened for OSA meant sleeping in a doctor’s office with wires taped all over your body for an entire night as you attempted to sleep. Today, sleep apnea screening looks a lot different. With revolutionary new technology, being screened for OSA can be done from the comfort of your home. Some OSA screening—like SleepImage, powered by VivoScore—is even as small and comfortable as wearing a ring as you sleep.

Even more importantly, these tests do not compromise on the reliability or accuracy of a traditional polysomnography study, the typical sleep evaluation used to diagnose a variety of sleep disorders. It may have once been a hassle for people to get evaluated for sleep quality; however, the idea has continued to permeate the sleep health space, becoming one of the most common sleep apnea myths. This has long discouraged individuals from seeking diagnosis or treatment—something which could dramatically improve their way of life.

If you have been hesitant to reach out to your doctor about sleep apnea because of the idea of an intimidating in-office sleep test, you don’t need to worry about that any longer. Screenings will only continue to become more convenient and accurate over time.

Myth 4: Sleep Apnea Only Affects Men

We’ve all seen the typical image of a couple burdened with sleep apnea: a woman covering her ears as her husband loudly snores. This idea has led many people to believe that only men snore or have sleep apnea, something that is simply not true. The truth is that women can have sleep apnea too. Because of the assumption that men suffer from OSA much more often than women, many women may be either underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. “Women with OSA present differently than men,” Angie Randazzo, behavioral sleep medicine specialist. “They often don’t have the stereotypical body type and don’t always say they are sleepy. Many will say they are fatigued, leading clinicians to think they have insomnia versus OSA.”

The myth that only men have OSA could result in millions of women getting access to less accurate or impactful treatment plans. If you’re a woman who experiences just light snoring and fatigue, it is essential to consider the possibility of OSA.

Myth 5: You Don’t Need to Treat Sleep Apnea

Perhaps the most harmful sleep apnea myth is that you don’t need to be diagnosed and treated for the disorder. Many people believe that OSA has not impacted their lives much more than causing them to snore or wake up sporadically throughout the night. However, the truth is that sleep apnea is a serious health condition, and the risk of going untreated for the disorder grows every day a patient does not receive treatment.

Of the millions of Americans suffering from sleep apnea, it’s estimated that 80 percent of them remain undiagnosed and untreated. However, OSA patients have shown a high prevalence of serious concerns like cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and metabolic disorders. And that’s just the beginning. One study even found that these conditions are associated with increased mortality risk.

Don’t let these sleep apnea myths cloud your judgment about the sleep disorder. If you believe that you could suffer from OSA, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional. You could see serious improvements in your overall health and wellness by treating this serious condition.