Everything you need to know about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Anna Bonet
Restless nights? It could be obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common but serious sleep disorder where a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.
Sleep apnea is estimated that up to 13 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.The condition often goes diagnosed but affects sleep quality, leaving people feeling tired the following day.
We look at the risk factors and signs of sleep apnea, plus, the treatments available:
What is sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common but serious disorder that often goes undiagnosed. ‘Sleep apnea refers to the complete or partial interruption of breathing during sleep,’ says Professor Adrian Williams of the London Sleep Centre. ‘It occurs when there’s a collapse of the airway in the throat region, due to relaxation of the muscles during sleep.’
The repeated night time interruptions will leave you feeling overtired the following day, but you’ll usually have no memory of the apneas taking place.
Signs of sleep apnea
According to Professor Williams and the NHS site, the main signs that you might be suffering from sleep apnea are:
• Restless sleep
• Noisy and laboured breathing
• Night sweats
• Waking up frequently to urinate
Risk factors for sleep apnea
There are certain factors that increase your chances of suffering from OSA. These are:
- Being male: It’s not know why females are less likely to suffer from sleep apnea but it is more common among men.
- Being over the age of 40: Although sleep apnea can happen at any age, the condition is most common among those over 40.
- Having a large neck: In men, this is considered as having a collar size of 17 inches and above; in women, 16 inches and above.
- Being overweight: Excess fat increases the amount of tissue in the neck, therefore placing pressure on the airway and increasing the chance of breathing being interrupted.
‘The condition is most common among those over 40’
- Smoking: If you smoke you have a higher chance of developing sleep apnea, because of the irritating effect of the smoke on your throat tissue.
- Drinking alcohol: If you consume alcohol, especially in the evening before bed, this makes OSA worse because it both slows your breathing and makes your breath shallow.
- Having retrognathia. Those with retrognathia have a lower bottom jaw than top jaw, which means they are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea as their mouth and jaw structure causes the tongue to tend to slip back towards the airway.
- Being diabetic: Those with type 2 diabeteshave almost a 50:50 chance of suffering from sleep apnea, studieshave found.
How can sleep apnea impact our health?
Partners of those suffering with sleep apnoea can also be greatly affected by not only the sleep disturbance or snoring but also the worry when their partner’s breathing seems to temporarily stop during the night. Taking your partner with you to the clinic to give a fuller picture of the problems is often very helpful for the doctors.
Sleep apnea treatments
There are some lifestyle changes you can make to help address sleep apnea.
- Avoid alcohol
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Quit smoking
• Avoid sleeping on your back
If the problem persists, says Professor Williams, your doctor may recommend the following after a proper assessment in a specialist sleep clinic.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): this is a devise which gently forces pressurised air through a mask you wear at night.
CPAP devices are often fitted with a remote monitoring system that works through the patient’s home wi-fi to deliver info about sleep and other parameters to the clinic doctors if needed for establishing a diagnosis or seeing an improvement.
Mandibular Advancement Splint: this is a mouth piece which moves the lower jaw forward slightly, helping to prevent the obstruction of your airway during sleep. Your clinic doctor will discuss whether this is appropriate for you.