WE’VE all been kept awake at night listening to somebody else snoring, with some bearing their partners regularly.
It’s a natural and very common part of sleep – even if irritable to other ears.
Fed up of listening to your partner snore? It could be a treatable condition called sleep apnoea[/caption]
But sometimes, snoring can be just one sign of a serious health condition.
And often the person doing the snoring will have no idea they are affected as the symptoms aren’t immediately obvious.
Sleep apnoea affects up to 1.5 million UK adults – but 85 per cent go undiagnosed, the British Lung Foundation estimates.
Treating sleep apnoea is important because it can not only impact daily life, but long term health and life expectancy.
Various studies have linked sleep apnoea with an early death, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke and even coronavirus death.
Here we explain how to know if you have sleep apnoea:
What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is a relatively common condition of which snoring is a typical sign.
If you have it, your breathing stops for around 10 seconds to a minute while you sleep – and this happens repeatedly over the night.
It’s caused by the muscles of the mouth and throat relaxing, restricting the airways, the causes of which are wide varied.
Once the brain notices what’s happening, it triggers you to wake up and start breathing again.
Despite happening over and over again, many people can sleep through the night without even realising.
But come the next day, they can feel very tired and wonder why.
What are the symptoms?
The key signs to look out for are:
1. Loud snoring
Snoring is when air flows past relaxed tissues in the throat, causing them to vibrate and make a sound.
Just because you snore, it does not mean you have sleep apnoea.
There are so many causes of snoring, like after having a heavy night of drinking or being sleep deprived.
But the louder the snore, the more narrow the airways are. Therefore, very loud snoring which wakes your partner could be a sign of sleep apnoea.
Many causes of snoring overlap with causes of sleep apnoea, such as obesity.
Looking out for other signs may lead you to the correct diagnosis.
2. Breathing stopping and starting
The main sign of sleep apnoea is the breathing stopping for periods of time as you sleep.
This happens up to 15 times per hour in someone with a mild case, and more than 30 times in someone with a severe case.
It’s unlikely you’ll notice your breathing stopping and starting while you sleep, which is why sleep apnoea can go undiagnosed.
3. Making gasping, snorting or choking noises
When your brain sends you a small nudge to wake up and start breathing again, it can cause you to choke or gasp.
This is the airways opening up again.
If you remember this happening to you in the night – or your partner does – it could mean you have sleep apnoea.
How do you treat sleep apnoea?
There are multiple different methods of treatment for sleep apnoea, including a chin strap which re-positions the jaw and treatment which uses hypoglossal nerve stimulation.
It can even be treated by upper airway surgery in some cases to remove tissue from the airways.
The most popular treatment which is highly effective is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which is a mask that fits over the mouth and nose, and blows air into the airways to help keep it open during sleep.
The continuous positive airways pressure machine is available on the NHS, and is a device worth hundreds of pounds.
If you would rather, you can buy your own CPAP machine online on healthcare site, EU-PAP.
It is the most effective therapy for sleep apnoea and is highly recommended.
The NHS also recommends you:
- lose weight if you’re overweight
- sleep on your side – try taping a tennis ball to the back of your sleepwear, or buy a special pillow or bed wedge to help keep you on your side
- stop smoking
- don’t drink so much alcohol, especially before bed
- don’t take sleeping pills unless recommended by a doctor
4. Waking up a lot
Have you ever heard someone suddenly snap awake during the night?
Although you may not notice rousing throughout the night, your partner may do (which in itself can put strain on a relationship).
If constant waking follows heavy snoring, it’s likely indicative of the stop-start breathing cycle that people with sleep apnoea go through.
5. Using the toilet in the night
Increased urination at night is a sign of many conditions.
It is one of the more random signs of sleep apnoea, and occurs due to a domino effect of constantly waking in the night.
Dr Mary Umlauf, an associate professor of nursing at The University of Alabama, found that 84 per cent of people with sleep apnoea have this symptom.
She explained to the American Sleep Apnea Association: “Oxygen decreases, carbon dioxide increases, the blood becomes more acidic, the heart rate drops and blood vessels in the lung constrict.
“The body is alerted that something is very wrong. The sleeper must wake enough to reopen the airway.
“By this time, the heart is racing and experiences a false signal of fluid overload. The heart excretes a hormone-like protein that tells the body to get rid of sodium and water, resulting in nocturia [night time urination].”
6. Feeling tired
Even though you may not realise you’ve been waking up throughout the night, this can cause you to feel very tired, also known as fatigue.
The effect of sleep apnoea on a person during the day can make activities difficult, including work.
Many symptoms of sleep apnoea are more obvious in the day, like tiredness and poor concentration[/caption]
Are you at risk?
People with sleep apnoea are more likely to be:
- have family members with the condition
- smoke or drink alcohol
- sleep on their back
- have larger necks
7. Poor concentration
Many day time symptoms arise because you have had decreased oxygen levels throughout the night as a result of interrupted breathing.
People who have sleep apnoea often report difficulting focusing on a task and memory problems.
8. Mood swings
If you have a distubed night’s sleep, you’re bound to feel irritable the next day.
For people with sleep apnoea, this may be because chemicals in the brain linked with emotion regulation are altered.
A study by University of California, Los Angeles, found that a drop in GABA and glutamate in those with the condition could explain why they can get moody.
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9. Headaches in the morning
Coffee in the morning can usually fix a foggy head.
But take notice if you are often waking up with headaches, because this is a very common sign of sleep apnoea – affecting up to half of patients, according to one study.
Researchers said headaches are likely triggered by vasodilation – dilation of blood vessels caused by lack of oxygen.