Sleep Apnoea – What Is It?

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Do you sometimes find yourself waking up feeling tired and groggy, even after a full night’s sleep? It could be a sign of sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a condition where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you sleep. It can happen to anyone, but it’s more common in overweight people and those over 40.

The most common type of sleep apnoea is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). With OSA, your airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to breathing difficulties. This can cause you to snore loudly, make gasping or choking noises, and even wake up frequently throughout the night.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnoea include loud snoring, episodes where you stop breathing during sleep (which is often reported by another person), gasping for air during sleep, awakening with a dry mouth, morning headaches, difficulty staying asleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness, which is also known as hypersomnia.

These are the most common in general:

  • loud snoring
  • noisy and laboured breathing
  • repeated short periods where breathing is interrupted by gasping or snorting

These symptoms are often the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain and other organs during sleep, which can cause the body to go into distress. In some cases, people may even wake up gasping for air or feel like they are choking. This can be a frightening experience that can lead to anxiety and other mental health issues. Additionally, the excessive daytime sleepiness associated with sleep apnea can affect a person’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, and perform everyday tasks. It can also increase the risk of accidents, especially when driving or operating heavy machinery.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional.

Causes

  1. Being overweight: Excess body fat in the neck can increase the bulk of soft tissue and place a strain on the throat muscles, leading to breathing difficulties.
  2. Being male: It’s unclear why sleep apnoea is more common in men than women, but it may be related to different patterns of body fat distribution.
  3. Age: Although sleep apnoea can affect anyone, it’s more common in those over 40 years of age.
  4. Large neck: Men with a collar size greater than around 43cm (17 inches) are at higher risk of developing sleep apnoea.
  5. Sedatives: Taking medicines that have a sedative effect, such as sleeping pills or tranquillisers, can make sleep apnoea worse.
  6. Inner neck structure: Certain anatomical features, such as a narrow airway, large tonsils, adenoids, tongue or a small lower jaw, can increase the risk of sleep apnoea.
  7. Alcohol: Drinking alcohol, especially before bed, can make snoring and sleep apnoea worse.
  8. Smoking: People who smoke are more likely to develop sleep apnoea.
  9. Menopause: Women going through menopause experience changes in hormone levels that may cause the throat muscles to relax more than usual, increasing the risk of sleep apnoea.
  10. Family history: Inherited genes may make some people more susceptible to sleep apnoea.

Is it serious?

If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to more serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It can also affect your mood, concentration, and overall quality of life.

If you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnoea, it’s important to see your GP or call NHS 111. They may refer you to a specialist sleep clinic for tests, which can determine the severity of your condition and help you find the best treatment options.

Treatment

Treatment for sleep apnoea can range from lifestyle changes like losing weight and quitting smoking, to using a device called a CPAP machine. A CPAP machine pumps air into a mask you wear over your mouth or nose while you sleep, keeping your airways open and improving the quality of your breathing.

Sleep apnoea can also be managed with good sleep habits, such as sleeping on your side and avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills. With the right diagnosis and treatment, you can manage sleep apnoea and enjoy better sleep and overall health.

Testing at home

An at-home sleep apnoea test is a handy device that allows you to monitor your breathing and oxygen levels overnight, which helps diagnose obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). It’s portable and convenient as you wear it while you sleep. The test calculates an OSA severity score by measuring the number of lapses in breathing per hour while you’re in bed.

While polysomnography, an overnight sleep study performed in a lab, is the most accurate diagnostic tool for obstructive sleep apnea, it can be expensive, and there may be long waitlists or limited access to specialsts – it depends where in the UK you live, sadly. In contrast, at-home sleep apnoea tests are designed to make testing more accessible and convenient for people who need it.

At-home sleep apnoea tests are generally speaking an excellent option for people with suspected OSA, provided that a qualified sleep specialist interprets the results. However, if you have other medical conditions or sleep disorders besides OSA, then polysomnography is the better choice overall – find out more at Wikipedia.

Most at-home sleep apnoea tests measure various bodily metrics to determine whether or not you have sleep apnoea… such as respriatory activity, breathing patterns, and chest motion, heart rate and blood oxygen level, actigraphy (nocturnal movement and motor activity), sleep position and position changes, and snoring events and intensity.

Can a mattress help?

Since everyone has different requirements and preferences, there is no universal solution to this problem, and simply buying a mattress will not cure your sleep apnoea.

However, people who suffer from sleep apnoea may find more success with particular types or brands of mattresses. One strategy to avoid sleep-related airway obstruction is to choose a mattress that properly supports your head, neck, and spine.

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Because sleep apnoea sufferers often experience breathing difficulties due to a clogged airway, this is very crucial; people with sleep apnoea will benefit from sleeping on a memory foam mattress (or a hybrid mattress that combines memory foam with other materials) in order to better conform to the body and provide targeted support. Note that adjustable mattresses that ofer individualised placement may also be useful since they can aid to reduce pressure on the airways and enhance breathing. Even if a good mattress can help with sleep apnea, it still needs to be used in conjunction with other methods, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), for the best results.

For this, you will need to contact a health professional.

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Edit History:

Our experts continually monitor the mattress & sleep tech space, and we update our reviews & articles when new information becomes available.

  • 8th May 2023
    Current Article - By Carrie Taylor
  • 12th January 2024
    Checked & Reviewed - By Jean Marshall
  • 8th May 2023
    Copy Edited - By Carrie Taylor
  • 4th May 2024
    Reviewed - By Carrie Taylor

WhatMattress has strict sourcing guidelines and we try to rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations where possible.

  1. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/obstructive-sleep-apnoea
  2. https://www.self.com/story/wake-up-gasping-for-air-causes
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polysomnography

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