What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where your breathing is briefly but repeatedly interrupted whilst you sleep resulting in your body not taking in enough oxygen. When this happens, you tend to gasp during your sleep, often waking up. Sleep apnea can sound like snoring and because many people are unaware that they have stopped breathing they will think that they have a normal sleeping pattern.

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Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that can lead to many health conditions as well as leaving you feeling drained and tired in the morning. More importantly if sleep apnea is left untreated it can lead to:

  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty concentrating at work or school
  • Mood swings and depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Relationship issues

Sleep apnea symptons

If you are unsure of whether you suffer from sleep apnea but wake up in the morning feeling tired, moody and have a headache, you should make an appointment with your doctor. They will ask you about your sleeping pattern and your symptoms. It may be useful if you have a partner to take them with you as they will no doubt be suffering from sleepless nights too and will be able to explain your symptoms for you in more detail.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist sleeping clinic for them to carry our tests. This may include asking you to wear devices at night so that your heartbeat and breathing can be monitored while you sleep. The results of how often your breathing stops will then be measured against the AHI (Apnea Hypopnea Index) score to show how severe your sleep apnea is. You can find out more by visiting this website https://www.sleephealth.org/ufaqs/what-is-ahi-represent/

The Ashutterstock_773009806HI score is:

  • AHI of 5 to 14 – mild
  • AHI of 15 to 30 – moderate
  • AHI over 30 – severe

Sleep apnea treatments

For mild cases, simple sleep apnea treatments like lifestyle changes can help. Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea as fat deposits in your upper airway can obstruct your breathing, therefore losing weight will reduce your risk. As well as losing weight you should stop smoking if you are a smoker, reduce your alcohol intake (especially before going to bed) and avoid taking sleeping pills unless advised to by your doctor as they can make sleep apnea worse.

For more severe cases you may need to wear a device called a CPAP machine which can be supplied by the NHS. You will wear a mask whilst you sleep which is attached to a machine which then gently pumps air over your nose and mouth whilst you sleep to stop your airways becoming narrow.

Other less common treatments can also include wearing a gum shield-like device which helps to hold your airways open whilst you sleep and for other cases there are surgical options such as removing large tonsils if they are obstructing your breathing.

It is important in the first instance to be assessed by your doctor so that you can get the advice and help you need to get a good night’s sleep. You can also visit the NHW website for more information: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleep-apnoea/