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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

August 19, 2020 3 min read

OSA is a largely undiagnosed sleep disorder where a person’s upper airway repeatedly collapses during sleep causing them to stop breathing for a period of 10 seconds or longer.

Normal
breathing

During sleep, air can travel freely to and from your lungs through your airways.

Obstructive
sleep apnoea

Your airway collapses, stopping air from travelling freely to and from your lungs and disturbing your sleep.

How to measure sleep apnoea?

A person’s level of obstructive sleep apnoea is measured by the number of sleep interruptions per hour using the Apnoea Hypopnea Index (AHI) or the Respiratory Event Index (REI).

The 10 most common symptoms of OSA

Day-time symptoms

Early morning headaches

As you stop breathing frequently during the night, less oxygen is making its way to your brain. Low oxygen levels initiate the widening of blood vessels.

Daytime sleepiness

The chronic sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnoea (repeated awakenings throughout the night) can result in daytime sleepiness.

Poor concentration

The repeated awakenings associated with obstructive sleep apnoea make normal, restorative sleep impossible; as such a person mood is impacted.

Irritability

The repeated awakenings associated with obstructive sleep apnoea make normal, restorative sleep impossible; as such a person mood is impacted.

Falling asleep during routine activities

The chronic sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnoea (repeated awakenings throughout the night) can result in daytime sleepiness.

 Night-time symptoms

Loud, persistent snoring

The sound produced by vibrations in the upper respiratory airways during sleep. It is caused by partial blockage or obstructions as air is being restricted from moving easily through the airways.

Witnessed pause in breathing

An apnoea is when your upper airway closes and you stop breathing for a period of 10 seconds or longer. Your bed partner will observe this pause in breathing.

Choking or gasping for air

Obstructive sleep apnoea can cause your breathing to start and stop while you sleep. It can lead to the throat muscles relaxing so much that they block your airway. You may wake up abruptly gasping for air or choking.

Restless sleep

The repeated awakenings associated with obstructive sleep apnoea make normal, restorative sleep impossible.

Frequent visits to the bathroom

Obstructive sleep apnoea leads to the production of the hormone atrial natriuretic peptide, which induces the frequent need to urinate.

Sleep apnoea is bad for your health

If untreated, obstructive sleep apnoea may also increase a person’s risk of long term conditions such as:

Type 2 diabetes

58% of people with Type 2 diabetes have OSA. Ongoing sleep deprivation means that less insulin is released in the body after eating. The stress hormone cortisol is then released making it even harder for insulin to do its job effectively.

Heart attack

Obstructive sleep apnoea increases the risk of heart failure by 140%.

Heart failure

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a sleep-related breathing disorder that has a major impact on cardiovascular function. It has been associated with hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, and heart failure.

High blood pressure

50% of people with high blood pressure have OSA and 85% of people taking blood pressure medication have OSA. As oxygen levels fall your brain sends a message to the blood vessels to increase the available oxygen to the heart and brain so the body can keep functioning. This increase in blood flow puts pressure on the blood vessels’ walls, elevating levels to higher than normal even during the day while you’re awake.

Stroke

70% of people who have had a stroke have sleep apnoea. CPAP therapy has proven to have beneficial effects terms of improving neurological symptoms in stroke patients. Stroke patients with OSA have a worse prognosis overall, but treatment with CPAP can have a significantly better impact on overall cognitive and other physical disabilities suffered after stroke.