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Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

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Obstructive sleep apnoea, or OSA, is a breathing issue that occurs when you’re sleeping, and is caused when the muscles in the body relax and narrow.

Typically, the narrowing of the airway causes you to snore. However, some people stop breathing when the airway closes for a short time. This can happen for around 10 seconds, or more.

When this occurs during sleep, the brain reacts to the dip in oxygen and restarts breathing with a sudden gulp, or gasp. For some, this could wake them briefly, but for others, they do not know it has happened at all.OSA can occur several times a night. In extreme cases, OSA can happen around 100 times a night. As sleep is disrupted, people with sleep apnoea often feel tired the next day.

Who Typically Experiences Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

Both men and women can experience obstructive sleep apnoea at different points in their life. Some typical examples of people affected include:

  • Middle-aged males
  • Women past menopause age
  • Women in later stages of pregnancy, however, OSA often improves after the baby is born
  • Overweight, or obese, men and women
  • Neck sizes of 43 cm (17 inches), or more
  • People with small airways, set-back jaws, large tonsils, or nasal blockages
  • Certain medical conditions, such as Downs Syndrome.

Sometimes, other factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and using sleeping pills can make the symptoms worse.


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There are several symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea, not just those experienced when someone is asleep. Sometimes, the person experiencing the symptoms may notice them, however, most often, a partner is typically the one to see changes in breathing, or snoring.

Symptoms of sleep apnoea when sleeping:

Loud snoring – most people snore at some point in their lifetime. However, if someone has OSA, they may snore very loudly and more frequently than usual.

Breathing stops temporarily – OSA sufferers will experience temporary intervals where they stop breathing. This can wake people when the body restarts breathing again, or can go unnoticed.

Unsettled sleep – sleep apnoea can cause disturbed sleep and lots of tossing and turning in the night.

Frequent visits to the toilet – if you need to go to the toilet more often during the night, this could also be a symptom of sleep apnoea.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea when awake:

Sleep apnoea doesn’t just affect the quality of your sleep, it can start to impact your daily lifestyle. There are some key symptoms to look out for if you think you’re experiencing OSA, these include:

Groggy after sleep – one of the most common factors of OSA is feeling tired and sleepy the next day. Although it may not wake you in the night, your body will be disturbed by the condition making it feel tired and unrested.

Difficulty concentrating – alongside feeling tired, concentration can be affected due to disturbed sleep. This may also impact everyday things, such as driving. It is advised that you do not drive if you feel sleepy, or unable to concentrate. The DVLA will need to be informed if you are diagnosed with OSA.

Changes in mood – lack of sleep, or disturbed nights, can lead to feeling low and irritable. In some cases, this condition can lead to depression and mental health issues.


OSA is a long-term condition and can sometimes lead to needing lifelong treatment. Treatment for sleep apnoea will help to manage the symptoms and make the quality of life better for you and your family.

The main aspects of treatment will help to reduce the amount of breathing pauses you have during sleep. This can have significant benefits to other parts of your day-to-day life, such as improved mood, energy, and concentration.

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There are several treatment options, including lifestyle changes that can reduce symptoms, these include:

Losing weight – research has estimated that around 60% of people that suffer from sleep apnoea are overweight. If your weight increases, there is also an increased chance that the pauses experienced during sleep will rise, too. Losing weight can help to reduce episodes.

Quit smoking – studies have suggested that smoking affects the airways. If the airways are damaged, they are more likely to close up while you are sleeping. Quitting smoking can help reduce this.

Moving more – there are many health benefits of exercising more often, including those for sleep apnoea. Studies have shown that increasing exercise levels can reduce symptoms, even something as simple as going for a walk.

Good sleeping habits – anything can affect sleep quality, and one of the most prominent is sleeping habits. To reduce symptoms, try to get into a routine that sees you go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Try to block out natural light as much as possible.

If you often sleep on your back, try and move to your side. Also, take some time to relax before bed, such as switching off phones, or the TV, an hour before, and perhaps have a bath to unwind.

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If you need other treatments to help with sleep apnoea, you may be referred to a sleep clinic. They often use procedures such as mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to help you make lifestyle changes. In some cases, surgery is considered for people that are over a BMI of 40.

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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

Continuous positive airway pressure – a device that provides airflow into the airways by maintaining continuous pressure.

Mandibular advancement devices – an oral device to help lower the jaw and tongue, making more space to breathe.