You should never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep, and few things interrupt a peaceful slumber as consistently and powerfully as sleep apnoea.
Not only does sleep apnoea mean getting less sleep overnight, but it also leads to increased tiredness and a greater risk of falling asleep during the day.
Dr Dan Ornadel is a Consultant Respiratory Physician at St John and St Elizabeth Hospital, and one of his areas of expertise is sleep. Here, Dr Ornadel explains precisely what sleep apnoea is, how its symptoms manifest, and the steps you can take if you have it.
Sleep is vital to good health
Getting a good nights’ sleep is a very important aspect of healthy living. The most common consequence of a poor night’s sleep is feeling sleepy during the day, but lack of sleep has also been linked to increased risk of weight gain and obesity, poor concentration and cognition, reduced exercise performance, increased risk of diabetes, a weak immune system and inflammation in the body, depression, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
An apnoea is a temporary pause in breathing
Sleep apnoea is when this occurs during sleep. Obstructive apnoeas occur when the upper airway collapses during sleep and blocks the flow of air. Most people with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) complain of daytime sleepiness. Their partners complain of hearing loud snoring interspersed with choking attacks and periods of silence before a loud gasp for air. Patients with OSA often awake feeling unrefreshed after sleep and may have morning headaches.
OSA can pose serious health risks. Sufferers are more likely to fall asleep while driving and crash, have poor concentration, and have increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
There is a difference between normal snoring and sleep apnoea.
Normal snoring is just a noise without any medical consequences. In obstructive sleep apnoea, the airway becomes blocked during sleep causing oxygen levels to fall and resulting in other stresses on the body. Consequently, the brain is not properly refreshed during sleep and the physiological stresses on the body increase the risk of certain diseases.
There are a number of things that might tell you if you have sleep apnoea
OSA is most common in middle-aged men, and people who are overweight or who have large necks (collar size greater than 17). Other risk factors include large tonsils or tongue, or a setback lower jaw resulting in an overbite.
Almost all sufferers snore and their partners may have witnessed episodes when they stop breathing. You are likely to feel excessively sleepy during the day and may have difficulty concentrating. You can check how sleepy you are by taking a simple test called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
Mouthguards can help with mild sleep apnoea.
Mild cases of OSA are sometimes treated with a mandibular advancement splint or ‘mouthguard’ which brings the lower jaw forward and helps to open the space at the back of the throat.
More severe cases of sleep apnoea require a mask.
The usual treatment for OSA is to wear a mask over the nose or face attached to a small machine which blows air continuously and keeps the upper airway open. This is called CPAP or ‘continuous positive airway pressure’. It is a very effective treatment for OSA.
Many patients with OSA are overweight so losing weight is often helpful in reducing the severity of the condition as well as improving their general health at the same time.
Our experienced clinical physiologists at the sleep unit are dedicated to solving patients sleep problems. For more information call 020 7806 4000.