Ask The Doctor > Questions & Answers > I have been having some sleeping problems lately when I wake up gasping for air

I have been having some sleeping problems lately when I wake up gasping for air

Patient: I have been having some sleeping problems lately when I wake up gasping for air. I only notice it about 2-5 times a night, but others have told me I was gasping a lot when I wasn’t aware, so I decided to record myself sleeping to see how much it actually happens. What I found was that it only ever happens the second half of the night. I also found that I don’t snore but there is always a snort before the gasp, and this would happen 20-30 times, sometimes ten times an hour, other times only 2, between the hours of 5:00 and 9:00. Sorry, this is a long question, but I’m just wondering what this could be because it doesn’t seem severe enough to be sleep apnea, because you have to have 5 events per hour, and for UARS, usually one would snore and have 10 arousals (RERAs), and I don’t have that either. But surely it’s not normal to wake up gasping for air like I do. I have also had my heart and lungs checked with a ECG, chest CT scan, pulmonary function test, and methacholine challenge- all normal. I’m going to have a sleep study soon, but what would they do if I don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for UARS or Sleep Apnea or OSAHS? Would they even be able to help me? I am so exhausted and I tend to think it’s my sleeping problems, but I just want to know what to expect. Any thoughts?



Symptoms: Exhausted all the time
wake up gasping for air



Doctor: Thank you for your question. It is is possible that you are experiencing symptoms consistent with sleep apnea. The diagn ostic criteria are meant as a guideline in order to diagnosis a patient with sleep apnea. However, if your symptoms do not fall within these diagnostic criteria yet you are still waking up gasping for air, then there may be an obstruction of your airways while you sleep. The best way to diagnose this condition is to proceed as planned by conducting your sleep study. If you are indeed experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, the sleep study will show evidence of this.If diagnosed with a form of sleep apnea, you can be prescribed a number of options to treat this condition. If you smoke, the first thing to do is quit smoking, as this will exacerbate your symptoms. In addition to this, you may be prescribed a breathing apparatus called Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP is the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. This requires you to wear a specially designed mask attached to an air flow generator machine. This machine blows a steady stream of air through the mask, into your nose and down your throat which will prevent your airways from obstructing for extended periods of time, relieving your symptoms.Thank you for consulting

Comments / Follow Ups

Patient: Thanks so much for your answer. But if I do not meet the diagnostic criteria for sleep apnea, but I still have some obstruction of my airways while I sleep, which may be causing my fatigue, how do they usually treat that? How bad does it have to be to qualify for a CPAP? If I didn’t qualify for CPAP, are there other treatments they might use to help?


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Dr. Suneel Sharman M.D.

Dr. Suneel Sharman M.D.

Dr. Suneel Sharman completed his residency in Family Medicine at the University of Toronto. He currently operates Infinity Health Centre, a walk-in-clinic in downtown Toronto.

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