SLEEP APNOEA

10% of men over 40 have sleep apnoea.

all about sleep apnoea

Sleep Apnoea is when you regularly stop breathing in your sleep and then suddenly start again. If this happens more than five times an hour, you’ll be diagnosed with sleep apnoea. It is most commonly caused by tissue at the back of your throat relaxing and blocking your airway. This lack of air reduces oxygen to your brain, and your body jolts you awake to kick start your breathing.

Having a broken sleep means people wake up exhausted, and in many cases they fall asleep at random times during the day.

Because sleep apnoea happens while you are asleep, it’s pretty hard to diagnose by yourself. If you share your bed, your partner might hear you breathing, then stop for a while, and start breathing again with a sudden choke or gasp. Most (but not all) people with sleep apnoea also snore.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnoea are waking with a sore throat and regularly feeling exhausted after sleeping through the night.

Sleep apnoea is most common in men over 50, but anyone can get sleep apnoea.

  • People with thicker necks are likely to have smaller airways and are therefore more susceptible to sleep apnoea.
  • Sleep apnoea is more common in men that are overweight.
  • Sleep apnoea is more common in men that smoke.
  • Maori men are twice as likely than non-Maori to have sleep apnoea.
  • Sleep apnoea is hereditary, so if someone in your family has it, you are more likely to get it.

Your doctor will examine your throat and probably give you some testing equipment to take home to monitor your breathing, blood oxygen and heart rate while you sleep. You might be asked to keep a sleep diary.

Depending on the results, you could get referred to a specialist sleep clinic, usually at your local hospital. They will attach sensors that monitor your brainwaves, heartbeat, breathing and movement, and you’ll sleep the night there, monitored by a nurse.

Your doctor will try to determine the underlying cause of your sleep apnoea and treat that. Here are some possible treatment options:

  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles in your throat.
  • Lifestyle changes like losing weight and stopping smoking.
  • Sleeping on your side.
  • Sleeping wearing a mouthguard-like device to keep your airways open.
  • For severe apnoea, you might need to wear an airflow mask called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure). This will help you get a good night’s sleep.
  • In extreme cases, surgery to increase the size of your airway might be necessary.

If you choose to ignore your sleep apnoea you’ll continue feeling tired during the day. If you don’t get treatment, it can eventually lead to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.

Paul's story

Paul, 35, is an Auckland based event producer, a keen basketball player, runner, bread baker, and home brewer. He also suffers from sleep apnoea. He talked to us about how he deals with it.

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USEFUL RESOURCES

Here are some useful brochures and resources that you can download for more information on sleep apnoea.

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