Sleep apnoea happens when the throat walls close in whilst sleeping. This blocks the upper respiratory track causing your breathing to momentarily stop, and this could be up to a minute (scary for your spouse to witness).
Eventually the brain recognises not enough O2 is getting to your brain and this causes you to wake, but not enough to wake entirely. You usually drift out of a deeper sleep which allows your airway to open up a little, a bit like a gasp, then you fall back into a deeper sleep usually oblivious of what’s going on. The frequency varies but could be hundreds of times during the night.
What sleep apnoea sufferers do notice is feeling tired, irritable and unrefreshed when they wake up due to the broken sleep pattern. And this can lead to a rough day ahead effecting concentration, work performance and mood.
If left untreated it may lead to more serious health complications including heart problems, stroke, elevated blood pressure, diabetes and even depression.
We think around 5% of the Australian population suffer from this sleep problem with 1:4 men over 30. The reality is there are many who are undiagnosed.
This is a problem particularly driving or operating equipment.
And if you’re overweight you increase you risk of acquiring sleep apnoea.
Furthermore, the masks recommended to wear to help open the airway and maintain O2 levels can be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses leading to a higher risk of infection.
There are different types of sleep apnoea and varying degrees of severity.
- Obstructive which is acquired due to weight gain for example.
- Central which disruption to the central processes controlling breathing.
- normal sleep – fewer than five interruptions per hour
- mild sleep apnoea – between 5 and 15 interruptions per hour
- moderate sleep apnoea – between 15 and 30 interruptions per hour
- severe sleep apnoea – more than 30 interruptions per hour.
Causes of obstructive sleep apnea
- Alcohol, especially in the evening.
- Certain illnesses, e.g. hypo-thyroid or goitre.
- Enlarged tonsils, especially in children
- Medications, e.g. sedatives
- Nasal congestion and obstruction
- Facial bone shape and the size of muscles, e.g. under bite
So now that we talked about what it is and what causes it lets focus on what you can do.
- Weight loss.
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Treat the thyroid if under-active.
- Wearing a mask at night preventing the throat from closing in. This forms part of a machine called a CPAP or ‘nasal continuous positive airway pressure’.
- Using a mouthguard (or oral appliance or mandibular advancement splint) which hold the jaw in a forward position during sleep.
- Surgery to the palate and base of tongue may be useful when other therapies fail.
So where should to go to get help?
Certainly, we can direct you, or your local GP however, a sleep disorder clinic is your best bet.
COVER IMAGE SOURCE: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/29/health/cpap-heart-patients/index.html
About the Author:
Andrew is married to Dr. Linda Wilson, the Stress Specialist and has two children, Isaac and Bella. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.