Disturbances when you sleep, such as waking up to go to the bathroom, loud noises from your neighbours, or snoring from your partner is frustrating and makes us cranky. But there are instances when snoring might be an indication of a larger sleep disorder.
Chronic snoring is an indicator of sleep apnoea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnoea is when the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the upper airway open. This leads to a pause in breathing that might last up to 10 seconds. This pause (apnoea) results in fragmented sleep and low oxygen levels. Disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
One in four Australians suffers from obstructive sleep apnoea, according to Healthy Sleep Solutions. It occurs in 10% of females and 25% of males. Many people with this condition might not know that they have it, or might overlook it in their partner. We spoke with Dr Mandana Mahmoudi, who specializes in sleep medicine at NYU Langone Health, to learn more about the disorder. Here’s how to tell if you or your partner have sleep apnoea.
Signs and Symptoms
Not to sound like the back of a prescription pill bottle, but there are noticeable signs and symptoms to look for when talking about sleep apnoea. The most common signs of sleep apnoea are loud snoring, tossing and turning in the night, waking up and gasping for breath, and obesity. One study found that 92% of overweight males, over the age of 45, were diagnosed with sleep apnoea. It also found that the incidence of sleep apnoea increased by weight in both males and females.
“Sleep apnoea is linked with other health problems, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias of the heart, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, depression, anxiety, and fatal car accidents,” said Dr Mahmoudi.
People with untreated OSA also suffer from chronic daytime drowsiness and fatigue, poor concentration, sexual dysfunction, irritability, and memory difficulties, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Statistics found by the Sleep Health Foundation show that people with sleep apnoea are two and a half times more likely to get in a motor vehicle accident than those without it.
I Think My Partner Has Sleep Apnoea…
Before you start kicking your partner because they’re snoring all night, take a moment to think about their sleep habits. Do they wake up often to use the toilet? Does it sound like they stop breathing for a few seconds? Is driving at night a problem for them? Dr Mahmoudi explained what to look out for if you think your partner is suffering from sleep apnoea.
“One might detect that their partner has sleep apnoea because of snoring, witnessed apnoeas (breathing pauses), daytime sleepiness, restless sleep, and frequent urination at night,” said Dr Mahmoudi.
And it’s not just adults who suffer from sleep apnoea. Dr Mahmoudi explained that children can get it as well, although it’s most commonly related to large tonsils and adenoids. In that case, the child or baby might need surgery to help prevent complications such as developmental delays and growth problems.
The most common treatment option for severe OSA is a CPAP mask. This fits over the nose and mouth and lightly pumps air into the airways to keep it open during sleep. CPAP therapy is an effective treatment in most cases but may be uncomfortable during the first few uses. Invest in the right pillows and mattress to create a safe and comfortable sleep environment.
Another solution is sleeping with an oral appliance, which will reposition the jaw and tongue — kind of like a mouthguard. This might require a visit to the dentist.
For those with mild sleep apnoea, lifestyle changes will help with treatment. As mentioned earlier, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are common symptoms of OSA. Dr Mahmoudi told us that weight loss might improve sleep. Also, keep in mind that alcohol and sleeping tablets may worsen sleep apnoea because it relaxes the throat muscles, which are already too relaxed to keep the airway open. So it’s best to avoid that before bed.
Don't let sleep apnoea take over your quality of life. If you suspect that you, your partner, or your child is suffering from OSA, seek the advice of a doctor or sleep specialist. They’ll be able to conduct an overnight sleep study to pinpoint exactly what the problem is and work with you to find a solution.