Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is a respiratory disorder that only happens when we sleep or nap. The layman’s definition is ‘the cessation of breathing during sleep’ and it involves frequent interruptions to your breathing while you sleep.
An Apnoea occurs when the muscle at the back of your throat collapses and restricts or completely closes the airway. These interruptions will cause a drop in your blood oxygen, however, once the breathing restarts, the oxygen level will return to normal. The majority of these brief interruptions can last up to ten seconds. In most cases the sufferer will wake after an Apnoea and this can lead to lethargy, irritability and headaches.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is most common in adults between 35 to 54 years of age with 4 in every 100 men, and 2 in every 100 women suffering with the condition. Studies have also shown that around 60% of people over 65 years of age have some form of OSA. However, despite these facts, it can still affect all ages, including children, and it is estimated that 100,000 people in Ireland suffer from OSA.
Some of the risk factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea are:
- Being overweight is a major risk factor because excessive body fat increases the bulk of soft tissue in the neck, which can place a strain on the throat muscles; excess stomach fat can also lead to breathing difficulties, which can make OSA worse.
- Taking medicines that have a sedative effect, such a sleeping tablets or tranquillisers.
- Having an unusual inner-neck structure, such as an unusually narrow airway, unusually large tonsils or tongue, or having a small lower jaw that pushes the tongue backwards.
- Having excess folds in the inner lining of the mouth (mucous membrane).
- Alcohol – drinking alcohol can make snoring and sleep apnoea worse.
- Smoking – you are three times more likely to develop sleep apnoea if you smoke.
- Being menopausal – the changes in hormone levels during the menopause may cause the throat muscles to relax.
- Having a family history of OSA – there may be genes inherited from your parents that can make you more susceptible to OSA.
- Diabetes – OSA is three times more common in people with diabetes.
- Nasal congestion – OSA occurs twice as often in people with nasal congestion, which may be due to the airways being narrowed.
Some cases of mild to moderate OSA can be successfully prevented by making changes to your lifestyle. These include:
- losing weight if you are overweight or obese
- avoiding alcohol during the evening
- quitting smoking if you smoke (see below)
- avoiding the use of sleeping tablets and tranquillisers
- not sleeping on your back because this can make snoring worse
Other changes you can make to improve the quality of your sleep include:
- reducing the amount of light and noise in your bedroom
- not reading or watching television in bed
- keeping work-related activities outside of the bedroom
- relaxing before going to bed
If you feel you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea or feel you could be at risk, you should contact your local GP or Medical Professional.