Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a relatively common condition whereby the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing. “This may lead to regularly interrupted sleep, which can have a big impact on quality of life and increases the risk of developing certain conditions,” explains the NHS. There are two types of breathing interruption characteristic of OSA and these can alternate throughout the night.
According to the NHS, these are:
- Apnoea – where the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse sufficiently to cause a total blockage of the airway; it’s called an apnoea when the airflow is blocked for 10 seconds or more
- Hypopnoea – a partial blockage of the airway that results in an airflow reduction of greater than 50 percent for 10 seconds or more.
“These events may occur around once every one or two minutes in severe cases,” adds the health body.
Naturally, many of the symptoms associated with the sleep disturbance are sleep-related, such as snoring and struggling to breathe.
However, there are a number of symptoms of OSA that can show up while you are awake.
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According to the British Lung Foundation (BLF), waking up sleepy and unrefreshed is a sign of OSA.
Other signs when awake include:
- Headache in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating and feeling groggy, dull and less alert
- Poor memory
- Feeling depressed, irritable or other changes of mood
- Poor co-ordination
- Loss of sex drive
Why you shouldn’t ignore the signs
It is imperative that you address OSA because, apart from disturbing your sleep, it can raise your risk of a number of serious health conditions.
“It can also lead to other health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes,” warns the BLF.
Plus, you’re more likely to have accidents at work and on the road, and your ability to work may be affected, the health body adds.
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So, how can I treat it?
Treatment for OSA aims to improve sleep and reduce the risks of developing long-term health complications.
“A doctor familiar with a patient’s situation is in the best position to address potential benefits and risks of treatments and make specific recommendations,” says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
According to the NSF, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, reducing use of sedatives, and sleeping on your side, can resolve some cases of OSA.
“Another common treatment is nightly use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine,” says the sleep body.
These devices push air through a mask and into the airway to keep it open during sleep.
Improving your sleep pattern can also supplement and improve the efficiency of other treatment plans, according to the BLF.
Simple self-help tips include trying to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, advises the health body.
“Keep your bedroom dark and quiet and get seven to eight hours sleep a night,” it adds.
Other tips include:
- Exercise every day – in the morning is best
- Go outdoors during the day and into sunlight or bright light
- Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature for you
- Use your bed for sleep and sex only
- Do something to relax just before you go to bed, such as having a warm bath
If you find yourself always worrying at bedtime, try to find a time in the day to write down your worries and get them out of your system.
If you are struggling to get to sleep and you haven’t identified the underlying cause, it can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary.
As the NHS explains, it may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.