Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, with around 100 million sufferers around the world. When it comes to sleep apnea diagnosis and monitoring, estimates suggest men are more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea than women. Around 3-7% of males and 2-5% of females in the US currently have sleep apnea, either diagnosed or undiagnosed.
Sleep apnea is rarely a life-threatening condition. But sleep apnea can have a negative effect on sleep quality. A bad night’s sleep can impact a person’s daytime activities, leaving them unable to exercise properly, concentrate on their work, and even change eating patterns
The need for proper sleep apnea diagnosis and monitoring is growing. A multitude of sleep monitoring devices are now available to consumers. Everything from smart pillows and bedside devices, to smartwatches with specially developed apps that monitor sleeping patterns, and even rings that the user wears.
In this article, we will uncover what sleep apnea actually is. We’ll take a look at the effects it can have on an individual. And we will also look at sleep monitoring technology that can help diagnose sleep apnea, as well as alleviate its symptoms.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
There are different types of sleep apnea, but one of the most frequently diagnosed is OSA – obstructive sleep apnea. In general, sleep apnea is when you stop breathing when you are asleep. It could be just for one or two seconds, but sometimes it can last much longer. This can occur dozens of times per night. The actual cause of sleep apnea is not known. But those diagnosed with sleep apnea tend to share some common symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms and Consequences of Sleep Apnea?
Symptoms of sleep apnea are sometimes alarming for others. People with sleep apnea are usually very loud snorers. They may stop breathing for long periods of time and then gasp for breath as they start breathing again. Choking, coughing and loud snorts are also common.
Those with a sleep apnea diagnosis may show physical reactions when they stop breathing. This causes them to wake up frequently throughout the night and ultimately affects their overall sleep pattern. Those with a sleep apnea often do not get enough deep or REM sleep, which is when your body does most of its repairing and reenergizing.
The effects of not getting enough sleep due to sleep apnea include:
- inability to concentrate when conducting even the simplest of tasks
- a feeling of fatigue that lasts all day
- frequent mood swings
- headache or migraine after waking up
Without proper treatment of the condition, it can eventually lead to depression and a higher than average blood pressure which increases the risk of a stroke. Other concerns like an increased chance of being in a vehicle collision due to an inability to concentrate are also worrying.
Some countries like the UK and Canada require you to report a sleep apnea diagnosis to the local DMV. US regulations stipulate drivers should report any medical issues which could interfere with their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
If you attend a doctor’s office and they suspect sleep apnea, they may recommend that you undergo a polysomnographic examination. For sleep apnea diagnosis and monitoring to occur, you must spend the night at a specialist sleep clinic.
Sensors and monitors connected to the patient monitor a variety of data. A video recording allows the doctor to see exactly what happens when the individual falls asleep. Heart rate, respiration rate, breathing, brainwave activity, blood oxygen saturation and body movement are all analyzed. These results allow for sleep apnea diagnosis and monitoring to determine the best course of action.
But what if you or your partner suspect sleep apnea, but aren’t sure? An easy solution is to buy a wearable device such as a smart watch or a smart ring.
Specialized sleep monitoring apps available for your smart phone can also detect sleep apnea symptoms. These devices aren’t as accurate as a proper clinical polysomnograph. But they can give you an excellent indication of a diagnosis. Many boast the same sort of heart and breathing rate sensors as well as Sp02 monitors found in a clinical setting.
The Best Third-Party Apps for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Monitoring
- SleepTracker – makes use of AI algorithms to detect sleep apnea by monitoring lots of different physical metrics such as your heart rate.
- SnoreLab – even though this app doesn’t actually diagnose sleep apnea, it can give a strong indication of one of the key symptoms – very loud snoring.
- SleepCheck – one of the few apps dedicated to monitoring sleep apnea, with a focus on your breathing rates and snoring to see if sleep apnea is the root cause.
- DreamMapper – a great app by Phillips, this app will give you scores based on your monitored raw data and can discern between the different types of apneas, TOA and total hypopneas.
- Sleep++ –while it’s not for measuring sleep apnea, this handy app can give you a greater insight into your restlessness during the night and the times you are awake when you should be sleeping.
The Best Devices for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Monitoring
While there are some brands dedicated specifically to monitoring sleep apnea, lots of main brand names can perform the same feat. In addition to making phone calls and listening to music, smartwatch wearables can also track sleep effectively.
Garmin has implemented this technology into both its Vivoactive/Vivosmart range as well as the Forerunner models. It uses an algorithm composed of the heart rate and blood oxygen level data to determine if the user is experiencing sleep apnea.
Fitbits are another product that has evolved greatly in the past few years. They can use the data collected from oxygen levels and heart rate to show the various stages of sleep – light or deep, and REM too. This information shows how long you have slept and any physical reactions you might have had during the night.
Chinese brand Xiaomi utilizes a host of sensors to help track sleep patterns. With its latest Mi Band 5 and 6 users can now track their nighttime activities with the Mi app. The app also provides suggestions for how to improve sleep.
Apple Watches were ranked 90% effective at determining sleep apnea by the University of California in 2017. So we can bet 5 years later the results are even more accurate thanks to updated algorithms. All Apple watches from the Series 3 and up, with watchOS 7 installed, can monitor sleep patterns and transfer the data to your connected smartphone or tablet.