A common sleep disorder, sleep apnoea occurs when an individual’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly while sleeping. People with sleep apnoea are inclined to snore louder, pause while breathing, and experience shallow breaths, gasping and choking. If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to daytime headaches and fatigue, as well as more serious conditions like high blood pressure.
Types of Sleep Apnoea
There are three types of sleep apnoea:
- Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – This occurs when parts of the upper airway become blocked while sleeping. When this happens, the diaphragm and chest muscles work harder to open the airway and allow air into the lungs, resulting in shallow breathing or temporary breathing pauses. Once the brain senses a lack of oxygen, it jerks the body awake. Breathing resumes with loud gasps or snorts and body jerks.
- Central sleep apnoea (CSA) – Unlike OSA, CSA does not occur because of a blockage in the airway. Instead, it occurs when the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles that control breathing. CSA may result from other health problems such as a stroke, heart failure and neuromuscular diseases.
- Complex sleep apnoea – This type of sleep apnoea is a combination of both OSA and CSA. It is often diagnosed during initial treatments. A patient with complex sleep apnoea may first appear to have OSA but will not respond to treatments like a CPAP machine or surgery to remove airway blockage.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea
Common ones include:
- Loud snoring
- Restlessness while sleeping
- Dry mouth due to mouth breathing
- Dry or sore throat upon waking up
- Waking up choking, gasping or snorting
- Morning headaches and dizziness
- Sleepiness and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Night-time urination (nocturia)
- Sexual dysfunction
Causes of Sleep Apnoea
There are several factors that can contribute to sleep apnoea, including:
- Relaxed tongue and throat muscles that block the airway
- Central nervous system dysfunction
- Heart, kidney or lung disease
- Nasal congestion
- Being obese or overweight
- Thyroid problems
When to Consult a Doctor
If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to more serious conditions, including heart disease and depression. This is why individuals are encouraged to seek medical advice if one or two of the symptoms above are present. In the case of snoring, many people may not know that they snore, and so should be informed by their sleeping partner.