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What is Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep Apnoea is a sleep disorder. Although there are several types of Sleep Apnoea, the most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is when apnoeas (breathing pauses) and hypopnoeas (breathing restrictions) repeatedly occur when your upper airway becomes obstructed. Obstructions occur when the muscles at the back of the throat relax causing the subsequent collapse of the tissue surrounding the passageway. Generally preceded by snoring, these pauses and reductions in airflow are often followed by a gasping or choking as the brain reacts to the drop in oxygen and momentarily waking you from your sleep. For severe suffers, this can happen up to one hundred times every hour.

The whole process repeats regularly as the person drifts off into a deeper sleep only to be aroused again soon after having another apnoea event. The individual is usually completely unaware of all this; rarely do they completely wake up but merely return to a lighter level of sleep. In the morning, they wake still tired, having had little or no quality sleep.

It is common for people with Sleep Apnoea to snore, as the snoring itself could be an indication that something is blocking your airway.

Types of Sleep Apnoea

Sleep Apnoea is a serious medical condition that could be harming your health and the quality of your sleep.

There are three main types of Sleep Apnoea:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA): This is the most common type of Sleep Apnoea. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, causing a blockage that interrupts breathing during sleep.
  2. Central Sleep Apnoea (CSA): This type of Sleep Apnoea is less common than OSA. It occurs when the brain does not properly signal the muscles to breathe during sleep.
  3. Complex Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (CompSAS): This type of Sleep Apnoea is also known as treatment-emergent central Sleep Apnoea. It occurs when a person has both OSA and CSA.

How common is Sleep Apnoea?

Over 10 million people in the UK have Sleep Apnoea, specifically in the older generation. However, it can affect anyone of any gender at any age.

Many sufferers of Sleep Apnoea believe it’s uncommon, and that’s why it is rarely discussed and why it so often goes unidentified. But Sleep Apnoea can affect anyone, including people on stage and screen. Here is a list of some celebrities with confirmed OSA around the world.

  • Capital DJ and TV personality Roman Kemp
  • Producer Shonda Rhimes
  • Actor William Shatner
  • Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal
  • Comedian Rosie O’Donnell
  • TV Host Regis Philbin
  • Record producer Quincy Jones
  • Actress Carrie Fischer

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    snorers in the UK approximately

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    of the UK adult population with OSA are undiagnosed – over 2.5 million people

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    NHS sleep diagnostic tests performed in 2022

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    patients on a waiting list for a sleep test – Nov 22

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    of UK truck drivers have OSA

Sleep Test - OSA

What are the warning signs of Sleep Apnoea?

If you believe you are experiencing any of the symptoms of Sleep Apnoea, it is important that you take action to receive confirmation as soon as possible. Signs and symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea include:

  • Snoring loudly and/or making choking or gasping noises during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless sleep
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration and forgetfulness
  • Mood changes, such as irritability or depression

Concerned about your sleep?


If you suffer from snoring or other breathing-related sleep problems, there is a chance you may be suffering from Sleep Apnoea. It is important to know that you are not alone. 5% of the UK adult population with Sleep Apnoea are undiagnosed. That equates to around 2.5 million people.

On average is takes 7 years from the onset of Sleep Apnoea symptoms before people seek medical confirmation and treatment.

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Factors that increase the chance of Sleep Apnoea

There are many factors that can impact our chances of developing Sleep Apnoea, many of which we have a direct influence of controlling with lifestyle changes, these include:

  1. Being overweight or obese:  Obesity greatly increases your risk of developing Sleep Apnoea. Fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct your breathing.
  2. Having a large neck circumference:  Men with a neck circumference greater than 17″ and women with a neck circumference greater than 16″ are more likely to have narrower airways.
  3. Having a narrow airway or enlarged tonsils or adenoids: You might have inherited a narrow throat. Tonsils or adenoids can also enlarge and block the airway, particularly in children.
  4. Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea than are people who have never smoked. This is because smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
  5. Drinking alcohol or taking sedatives or sleeping pills: These substances help to relax our muscles, and they also relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.
  6. Having a family history of Sleep Apnoea: Having family members with Sleep Apnoea may increase your risk.
  7. Being a man:  Men are 2 to 3 times more likely to have Sleep Apnoea than are women. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight or if they have gone through menopause.
  8. Advanced age (over 65): Sleep Apnoea occurs significantly more often as we age.
  9. Having a deviated septum or nasal polyps: A deviated septum or nasal polyps can block the airway, making it harder to breathe during sleep.
  10. Medical conditions: Congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are some of the medical conditions that may increase the risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Polycystic ovary syndrome, hormonal disorders, prior stroke and chronic lung diseases such as asthma can also increase the risk.
  11. Nasal congestion: You are more likely to develop Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, if you have trouble breathing through your nose. Anatomical problems and persistent allergies included.

The Levels of Sleep Apnoea Severity

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is classified by severity based on the number of apnoeas and hypopnoeas (shallow breaths) that occur per hour of sleep. Severity ranges from mild to severe. In cases of severe Sleep Apnoea, patients can experience more than 30 apnoeas per hour. It is considered normal for everyone to have between 0 and 4.9 apnoeas in an hour.

The severity ranges of Sleep Apnoea are calculated using the Apnoea Hypopnoea Index, also known as the AHI. When taking a Sleep Apnoea test your AHI number is calculated and then divided by the hours you sleep to determine your necessary treatment. Those who use CPAP therapy can keep track of their AHI in their machine readings on the device or corresponding app.

What can happen if Sleep Apnoea goes untreated?

Sleep Apnoea can have serious consequences if left untreated, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular complications including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Heart Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes

The affect Sleep Apnoea has on the cardiovascular system is due to stress on the heart. Sleep Apnoea can worsen over time, and even lead to premature death. A lack of oxygen also greatly increases your chances of suffering a heart attack, and studies show there is a strong link between Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) and an increased risk of stroke.

OSA can also lead to problems with memory and concentration, increasing the risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This is due to the reduced oxygen reaching the brain, decreasing cognitive functions.

Excessive sleepiness caused by Sleep Apnoea puts an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Tiredness is one of the biggest killers of road accidents, statistics show that as many as 300 deaths were the result of a driver falling asleep at the wheel. Driving with untreated Sleep Apnoea can be particularly dangerous.

If left untreated, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea can shorten your life from anywhere between 12-15 years.


Is there a cure for Sleep Apnoea?

Unfortunately, like many health conditions, there is no cure for Sleep Apnoea. However, specific lifestyle changes can decrease the severity and development of the disorder.

Lifestyle adjustments like maintaining a healthy weight and incorporating regular exercise into your week will increase your energy levels and improve your health and lung health. By loosing weight and removing the fatty tissue around the throat and neck, you can naturally help to prevent blockages.

You can work to adjust your sleeping position, so you are sleeping on your side, this position allows your airway to stay open and promotes better airflow. Avoid alcohol before going to bed and giving up smoking can also reduce your symptoms.

There are positional sleep therapy devices and oral appliances which can help to reduce snoring, improve your sleep position and help to keep your airways open. You can learn more about alternatives to CPAP Therapy here.

CPAP Therapy

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) therapy is the most commonly used treatment to help people who have Sleep Apnoea. CPAP therapy works by delivering a steady stream of air through a mask that is worn while sleeping. The air pressure is set at a level that keeps the airway open during sleep, which prevents apnoea episodes and allows for normal breathing.

DreamWear Nasal CPAP Mask - FitPack

Understanding CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy is delivered via a mask which is worn during sleep. The mask sits just over or under the nose or over the mouth as well for those who breathe through their mouth. The mask is connected to a machine which contains a pump. The machine sits beside the bed. This machine is called a CPAP machine and the machine monitors the users breathing and adjusts the pressure accordingly.

Once in place and working, the impact can be dramatic with greatly improved sleep and no daytime sleepiness.

CPAP masks have developed over the years too and they are far lighter and less cumbersome.


How to get checked for Sleep Apnoea

If you are worried that you may have Sleep Apnoea, it is important to be properly evaluated and diagnosed. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and any symptoms that you may be experiencing. Your doctor may also refer you for a sleep study to see if you have Sleep Apnoea. Sleep studies are tests that are done while you are asleep to measure your breathing and oxygen levels. The results of the sleep study can determine if you have it and the best treatment.


WatchPAT In Home Sleep Apnoea Test | Intus Healthcare

The Sleep Test

The first step to understanding if you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is to take a sleep test. Our revolutionary In-Home Sleep Test can determine if you have Sleep Apnoea in as little as 7 days.

After identifying the risk factors and analysing the data from your sleep study, our team of NHS qualified sleep technicians can provide you with accurate confirmation in less than 48 hours.

If your result is negative,you can sleep a little easier and focus on what else could be causing your sleep problems. If the result is positive, you can discuss the result with your GP or begin the treatment you need to manage your symptoms right away.