Getting enough rest at night is a proven health benefit for humans, as it contributes to everything from stress relief to your memory retention to literally helping heal the body. But even if you manage to sleep a full seven or eight hours at night, do you still feel like you hardly slept at all? The possible answers for that are long and varied, indeed, but one of the more serious reasons is that you are suffering from a disorder known as sleep apnea. Doctors diagnose over 200,000 new cases of it every year in the United States, so what you may be experiencing is not uncommon.

What Exactly Is Sleep Apnea?

In a perfect world, when we go bed every night our bodies gradually relax and we drift smoothly off into dreamland, where we stay locked in slumber for the next several hours. In reality, many of us struggle to fall asleep, and then when we finally do we toss, turn, and even wake up multiple times as the night drags on. Maybe we’re stressed out, ate a spicy meal for dinner, or just stared at the laptop too long before finally deciding to call it a night.

For people with sleep apnea, it’s actually much worse – and potentially dangerous – as they will literally stop breathing for several seconds at a time while still asleep. It’s usually the result of the muscles that normally keep the throat open not doing their job, but may also be the brain misfiring and sending incorrect signals. In either case, the oxygen supply to the brain is essentially cut off for long moments, resulting in a severe lack of quality and restful sleep.

Loud snoring is a typical sleep apnea symptom, but it’s not always present. Insomnia, waking up with a dry mouth or a headache, or feeling sleepy and irritable all day long are also red flags, so check with your health care provider about getting tested for sleep apnea if you’re experiencing any of these common signals. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine may be an immediate, short term answer to your sleeping problems, but keep in mind that dropping any excess weight will often rid you of even the need for that!