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All about sleep apnoea

Do you wake up exhausted? Does your partner complain about your snoring? You may be one of up to 6% of people who suffer from sleep apnoea – in obese people that number is 77% and you may not know you have it.

What is obstructive sleep apnoea ?

When you go to sleep your muscles relax, including those in your throat. In some people the relaxing muscles cause the throat to narrow, which can reduce the amount of air flowing in and out of your airways. This makes you snore.
If your throat closes completely, you stop breathing for a time. This is called an apnoea. If the airways in your throat narrow this is called a hypopnoea.

When this happens, there might be a dip in the level of oxygen in your blood.
When this happens your brain will start your breathing again: some people wake up briefly, while others are not aware of what is happening. Each time this happens it is usually a minimum of 10 seconds before they start to breathe again.

If you have severe OSA, this cycle may happen hundreds of times a night. These frequent arousals disrupt your sleep, and so can make you feel very sleepy during the day.


Most adults will occasionally experience this problem which is harmless. However, when it occurs more frequently, this interrupted breathing pattern interferes with restful sleep and can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as other symptoms.

What causes the airway to collapse during sleep?

Airway collapse can occur due to a variety of reasons:

  • A decrease in the tone of the muscles holding the airway open.
  • A receding jaw.
  • Extra tissue in the back of the throat, such as large tonsils, uvula, tongue or long/floppy soft palate.
  • Nasal obstruction.
  • Obesity, commonly associated with a large neck circumference.

What are the symptoms of OSA?

Not everyone who has the symptoms listed below will necessarily have sleep apnea.

We possibly all suffer from these symptoms from time to time but people with sleep apnea demonstrate some or all of these symptoms all the time.

  •  Excessive daytime sleepiness
  •  Uncontrollable sleep/napping during the day
  •  Morning headache
  •  Dry mouth/throat
  •  Sore throat
  •  Depression
  •  Loss of memory and attention/concentration
  • Change in personality
  •  Irritability
  •  Fatigue
  •  Acid reflux
  • Sexual dysfunction and impotence
  • Periodic limb movement when asleep
  • Excessive snoring
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  •  Restlessness
  • Waking during the night, possibly with a choking sensation
  • Nocturia (needing to go to the toilet during the night).

Alcohol and certain medications such as sleeping tablets can also increase the severity of symptoms and should be avoided unless prescribed for medical reasons or advised by your healthcare professional.

What are the consequences of untreated OSA?

Left untreated, OSA can affect your quality of life and put your health at risk. OSA is linked to other health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

If you have OSA, you are at higher risk of being involved in a road collision and accidents at work.

Can OSA be treated?

Yes, if you have been diagnosis with OSA you will need to use an Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP or AutoPAP) or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This is a long term treatment which to be effective must be used every night, all night.