What is Sleep Apnoea? What are its causes? How do I know I have it?
Sleep apnoea is a medical condition where you stop breathing during your sleep. Yes, it does sound scary, but let’s elaborate some more so it doesn’t appear as scary. There are two types of sleep apnoea: central (very rare) and obstructive sleep apnoea (common). In this article, we will focus on obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA for short.
As the term obstructive suggests, something is blocking airflow from entering your lungs. That thing obstructing your breathing is your upper airway, or more specifically, parts of it. During sleep, your upper airway muscles (from nose to above your vocal cords) relax and collapse. The degree of collapse may be enough for your brain to tell you to wake up. You usually wake up with a snort or loud snore. This ensures that you still get in enough air to aerate your lungs.
For people with OSA, these episodes of breathing cessation last longer than 10 seconds and occur more than five times per hour. Unfortunately, if you have OSA, you’re often not fully aware of these frequent episodes. What you do feel are the effects of frequent episodes of breathing cessation. Common causes of OSA include excess weight, a naturally narrow throat, a thick neck or structural abnormalities and diseases in the upper airways.
Note: Please don’t attempt to diagnose OSA on your own. There are doctors for that. After taking your history and doing a physical examination, they might order some additional tests to confirm a diagnosis of OSA.
Medical Treatments for Sleep Apnoea
Lucky for us, there are medical treatments available for OSA. Here are some of them:
CPAP. This cute-sounding acronym stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It’s a mask placed over your nostrils while you sleep. It provides positive air pressure to keep your upper airways open while you sleep. It’s the most effective non-invasive (no surgery) method to fight OSA.
Oral appliances like mandibular advancement slips provide an easy to carry measure against milder cases of OSA.
Surgery. This last form of treatment against OSA may include repositioning of your jaw, removing your tonsils or putting an implant into your body that senses changes in breathing and opens your airway by stimulating particular muscles.
What YOU can do about your sleep apnoea
Those who are overweight are more prone to OSA. Extra fat tissue around your face and neck puts more pressure on your upper airways increasing the severity of OSA. So please, do your best to keep your body weight within ideal ranges for your age. Start with diet and exercise. Click here for some fun exercises you can do to lose weight. Regular exercise does wonders for your health overall and getting fit also helps your sleep apnoea.
Do you drink a lot of alcohol or take a lot of sleeping pills? If so, you might want to dial them down or preferably stop taking them. People who drink a lot of alcohol and regularly consume sleeping pills are more prone to experiencing sleep apnoea because of the depressant effects.
Follow a heart healthy diet. A whole food diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables, good quality protein foods and good fats. Limit processed foods, takeaways, sugars, sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates.
Try sleeping on your side instead of on your back. Don’t worry, either the left side or right side is fine. This has been shown to decrease the number of episodes of breathing cessation.
Apply some saline nasal drops or spray in your nostrils before going to sleep at night. They help to keep your nasal passages open while you sleep. Ask your healthcare practitioner or pharmacist about them.
Quit smoking. The effects of smoking worsen OSA. Yes, we know you know about the other negative effects of smoking, so please, for the nth time, stop smoking.
In Australia, it’s estimated that 6% of the population experiences some form of sleep disorder. The majority of them (about 4%) suffer from the effects of OSA. In New Zealand, around 16,000 people are affected by it. OSA can happen at any age but is more common among middle-aged males. Sadly, OSA leads to both economic and health impacts including the development of complications and more serious health conditions. If you know someone who shows signs and symptoms of OSA, urge that person to seek medical help as soon as they can.