We’re all familiar with the most common side effects of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – loud snoring, disturbed sleep, and daytime sleepiness. But OSA can lead to a long list of side effects, many of which are under-discussed. OSA occurs when a blocked airway prevents the body from getting the air (and oxygen) it needs. Breathing can stop for several seconds, or even minutes, multiple times during the night. This causes the brain to wake up so the sleeper can breathe. People with OSA usually don’t remember every instance of waking up, but the result is fragmented, non-restorative sleep.

Here are some of the less discussed side effects of sleep apnea:

Depression is linked with OSA and works both ways. That is, people who are depressed are more likely to develop OSA, and people with OSA are more likely to develop depression. One study found that slightly less than half of people with OSA showed depressive symptoms. This is not so surprising, considering that restful sleep is so important for physical and mental health.

Chronic pain
As with depression, chronic pain may be a cause of, or may be caused by, OSA. A study found that over half the people with OSA had chronic widespread pain and that the risk was higher in women than in men.

Hormone disruption
Sleep is a critical time for the body to regulate hormones. An important one to note is the growth hormone (HGH), which is produced during Stage III sleep. It helps with cell reproduction, cell regeneration, and metabolism. If Stage III sleep is cut short, or never reached, HGH can’t perform its job. Rather than repairing itself during sleep, the body continues to break down.

Nocturia, the frequent need to urinate at night

People with OSA are more likely to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. That’s because it affects the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which prevents fluid from filling the bladder and prevents the need to urinate during the night. When ADH can’t do what it’s supposed to, the bladder fills and the urge to urinate appears. This is yet another way that OSA disturbs proper bodily functions and compounds disordered sleep.

Seeking help for OSA

These are just some of the lesser-known side effects of OSA. If you suffer from OSA or suspect you do, have a sleep study done. This is the only way to correctly diagnose OSA (or other sleep disorders). Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin to work towards a solution. OSA should be treated as a serious medical condition because the consequences go far beyond daytime fatigue, so take the first step in addressing it today.