We’ve written before at HuffPost UK about how hearing a thudding sound when you’re falling asleep can reveal heart issues.
Well, it turns out that gasping when you wake up ― especially if you’re waking up in the middle of the night, or if the gasp itself wakes you up ― could be another sign it’s time to visit your GP.
That’s because the sensation can be a symptom of sleep apnoea, which the NHS says “needs to be treated because it can lead to more serious problems” like high blood pressure and increased stroke risk.
How can I tell if it’s sleep apnoea?
“Gasping at night can be caused by a lot of things,” otolaryngologist Omar G. Ahmed, MD, who treats sleep disorders at Houston Methodist Hospital, shared with WebMD.
It can be caused by anxiety and panic attacks instead of a respiratory condition, the doctor says.
But the NHS advises you see a GP if your breathing stops and starts while you sleep (you can ask your partner about this, or record yourself as you sleep), if you make gasping, snorting or choking noises while you sleep, and if you always feel very tired during the day.
These may be signs of sleep apnoea.
Other symptoms include waking up often during the night, snoring loudly, and finding it hard to concentrate during the day. You may also face headaches when you wake up and have mood swings as the day progresses.
What types of sleep apnoea are there?
There are two main types of sleep apnoea ― obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).
OSA is the most common type, and is caused by physical obstructions to the airway (like your tongue and other tissue getting in the way of your throat).
This type of sleep apnoea “can sometimes be treated by making lifestyle changes like losing weight, giving up smoking and reducing how much alcohol you drink,” the NHS says.
“But many people need to use a device called a CPAP machine. You’ll be given this for free on the NHS if you need it.”
CSA, on the other hand, is caused by issues in your brain ― the stem, which is responsible for regulating breathing, simply goes haywire as you sleep.
It can happen in premature babies and those with underlying conditions affecting the brain and/or nervous system, and treatments range from allowing premature children’s brains to mature to using a BPAP respiratory machine.
Surgery and medications are also sometimes used to treat CSA.
If you suspect either kind of apnoea, see your doctor ASAP. “Sleep apnoea can be serious if it’s not diagnosed and treated,” the NHS warns.