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Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is when you stop breathing when you are asleep, caused by an obstruction; usually the soft tissue around your airways. Episodes of interrupted breathing are often easily observed by someone when an individual is sleeping, but the sleeper might not know it’s happening. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea can also cause other symptoms, usually due to tiredness resulting from a lack of deep sleep.

Most people with OSA snore loudly. Their breathing may be noisy and laboured, and it is often interrupted by gasping and snorting with each episode of apnoea.

If you have OSA, you may have no memory of your interrupted breathing during the night. However, when you wake up, you are likely to feel as though you haven’t had a good night’s sleep.



Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Symptoms:

  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Snoring
  • Feeling excessively tired during the day
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Irritability and a short temper
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Frequent toilet visits during the night
  • Headaches (particularly in the morning)
  • In men, impotence


Gasping and choking during sleep

You can gasp for air because you are choking during sleep. If you have an apnoea episode and the airway is blocked, after a time, your brain will wake you to catch your breath, and this creates the gasping noises.


Snoring is a common condition that occurs when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is partially blocked during sleep. When the air flow is partially blocked, the surrounding tissues vibrate, which produces the sound of snoring.

The soft tissue in the nasal passages, the soft layer at the back of your mouth, the base of your tongue, your tonsils or your uvula can cause you to snore.

However, not everyone who snores has Sleep Apnoea. Some people may snore due to other factors, such as nasal congestion, alcohol consumption, or certain sleeping positions.

Feeling excessively tired during the day

The pauses in breathing and reductions in airflow makes the brain react to the oxygen drop, by momentarily waking you from your sleep. The sufferer can actually stop breathing for as much as 10 seconds with each event. Sleep Apnoea can occur up to one hundred times every hour; in severe cases. The whole process then repeats regularly as the person drifts off into a deeper sleep only to be roused again soon after having another apnoea event. The individual is usually completely unaware and rarely wake up entirely but merely return to a lighter level of sleep. They then wake up still tired, and fatigued throughout the day.

Anxiety and depression

Sleep loss from Sleep Apnoea is associated with similar findings observed in some psychiatric disorders. However, the extent to which sleep deprivation may be related to the emergence of clinical symptoms of psychopathology in individuals is not clear.

High blood pressure

Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during Sleep Apnoea events increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).

Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea - Snoring | Intus Healthcare

Lack of interest in sex

Deprivation of restorative sleep can create fatigue during the day and at night but combined with general depression; it can affect the libido. Exactly why is not known but studies have seen compelling data to there being a link. The sufferer’s partner can also be affected by the snoring; which leads to them suffering sleep loss.

Irritability and a short temper

Sleep loss from Sleep Apnoea can lead to changes in mood and cognition.

The human brain creates two chemicals, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA. Both chemicals are found in a portion of the brain called the insula. This part of the brain combines and coordinates the signals from other regions of the brain and helps regulate emotional response. They’re also linked with cognitive ability and functions like blood pressure and perspiration.

People with Sleep Apnoea have lower levels of GABA and abnormally high levels of glutamate. While GABA is a mood inhibitor and helps people keep calm, glutamate has the opposite effect. Elevated glutamate levels increase stress and stop the brain from functioning correctly.

Poor memory and concentration

Sleep deprivation caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnoea can reduce cerebral metabolism within the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognition (concentration). It is suspected that people with a lack of restorative sleep have difficulty converting short term memory to long term memory. Consolidating memories, or storing experiences so that they can be accessed later, is a vital link in the memory-creating process that occurs during sleep.

Frequent toilet visits during the night

Nocturia (frequent toilet visits during the night) is also prevalent in Sleep Apnoea patients. It has become a key indicator as significant as snoring. How does apnoea cause nocturia? During episodes of Sleep Apnoea, the soft structures in the throat relax and close off the airway, setting into motion a chain of physiological events.

  1. Oxygen decreases.
  2. Carbon dioxide increases.
  3. The blood becomes more acidic.
  4. The heart rate drops.
  5. Blood vessels in the lung constrict.

The body is alerted that something is wrong. The sleeper must wake enough to reopen the airway. By this time, the heart is racing and experiences a false signal of fluid overload. The heart releases a hormone-like protein that tells the body to get rid of sodium and water, resulting in nocturia.

Morning headaches

Morning headaches are caused when the oxygen level drops due to the intermittent breathing caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Sleep Apnoea causes air to be trapped in the lungs, and this de-oxygenated air is the waste product of carbon dioxide. It builds up in the lungs and enters the bloodstream. This lack of oxygen in the blood and a build-up of carbon dioxide negatively affect the brain and lead to Sleep Apnoea headaches.

Impotence (erectile dysfunction) and OSA

Scientists don’t know exactly why men can have erectile dysfunction, but sleep deprivation can cause testosterone levels to drop. This testosterone dip, plus the lack of oxygen, could be the cause. Both are important for a healthy erection. Stress, anxiety and fatigue can also be contributing factors.

What is the main cause of Sleep Apnoea?

The main cause of sleep apnea is obstruction of the upper airway. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including obesity, large tonsils or adenoids, a deviated septum, or a large tongue or small jaw.

Other potential causes of can include hormonal imbalances, neurological disorders, certain medications, chronic nasal congestion, alcohol or drug use, genetics and smoking.

What are the long-term health risks of OSA?

Chronic sleeplessness is associated with numerous health risks ranging from minor conditions to chronic health concerns. As you are more likely to grind your teeth and breathe through your mouth, Sleep Apnoea can result in cracked teeth and an increased risk of cavities. You are more likely to have high blood pressure, depression and a lower sex drive.

Being tired all the time affects your quality of life; your relationships, energy for hobbies and the ability to perform well at work. Lack of sleep is also linked with weaker immunity, meaning you may get ill more often or take longer to recover.

Also, people with Sleep Apnoea are more likely to die prematurely. The physical effects lead to systemic inflammation (affecting the whole body) which is known to cause several chronic diseases. For instance, OSA can increase the likelihood of you developing type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, asthma, liver damage, an irregular heartbeat or congestive heart failure.

Sleep Apnoea increases your risk of having heart attacks and strokes. It can also cause complications of existing conditions. OSA can also cause complications in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

In very rare cases, you can choke to death in your sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may fall asleep behind the wheel while driving; people with OSA are five times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than those with normal sleep.

How is Sleep Apnoea confirmed?

To determine if your symptoms are related to OSA a non-invasive overnight oximetry Sleep Apnoea test can be done privately or through an NHS sleep clinic.


NHS: You can request an NHS sleep test from your GP. To begin this process multiple appointments are required with your doctor, the equipment must be collected and returned, and one night of sleep is assessed.

You are likely to then be referred to a local sleep clinic for additional tests. These tests measure your brain activity, blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, heart rate, snoring and eye/leg movements. You may be required to stay overnight to complete the sleep study.

It can take a couple of months to get an appointment and a few weeks before you receive the results; if it is confirmed that you have OSA, the results may be shared with the DVLA and your doctor.

In 2020 it was reported that OSA sufferers in the UK are waiting for up to two years to receive the treatment they require through the NHS. Do bear this in mind if your symptoms are serious.


Private In-Home Sleep Test: A private In-Home Sleep Apnoea Test uses medical-grade equipment to assess your sleep and is delivered by courier directly to your home. Depending on when the test is ordered you could receive it as soon as the next day. The small device is worn overnight and measures your blood oxygen levels, your heart rate, body movements and position, snoring intensity and a key indicator of a respiratory disturbance called ‘peripheral arterial tone’.

You will also be expected to complete a medical consent form and medical questionnaire for our sleep technicians to review.

Our specially trained NHS healthcare professionals evaluate the results, and you will usually receive a confidential result within 14 days of completing the test. Many of our customers begin their treatment as soon as the day after receiving their sleep test results.

Importantly: You will receive the test results directly. The results will not be shared with your doctor, the NHS or the DVLA.

In-Home Sleep Test for a Faster Result

At Intus Healthcare we offer a detailed In-Home Sleep Test which is easy to perform and, as the name suggests, can be completed from the comfort of your own home.

The In-Home Sleep Apnoea test is a highly convenient first step towards confirmation and treatment for Sleep Apnoea. You can order the test online and have it delivered within 48 hours.

To assess your risk of OSA you can take our quick online free Sleep Apnoea risk assessment.

Treating Sleep Apnoea Naturally

If you are keen to explore natural solutions, lifestyle changes can have an impact on the quality of your sleep and reduce the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). If unsuccessful, CPAP therapy may be advised.

Reducing weight / neck circumference

Research has found that men with a neck circumference above 17 inches and women with a neck circumference above 15 inches have a much higher risk of developing Sleep Apnoea. Many people with severe cases of OSA are overweight or obese, as excess weight puts pressure on the upper airway.


Smoking can contribute to the development of Sleep Apnoea and make the condition worse. There are several ways that smoking can contribute to Sleep Apnoea symptoms. First, smoking can cause inflammation and swelling in the upper airway, which can narrow the airway and make it more difficult to breathe. Second, smoking can weaken the muscles in the upper airway, leading to further narrowing of the airway. Finally, smoking can increase the production of mucus in the airway, which can further obstruct breathing.


Alcohol is a sedative, and when consumed, it can relax the muscles in the throat and cause the airway to become blocked during sleep. Regularly consuming a high amount of alcohol before you sleep disrupts your REM sleep, increasing the risk of OSA by 25%.


Obesity is a key risk factor for OSA. Eating an unhealthy diet that contributes to excess body weight may cause or worsen your Sleep Apnoea symptoms. Eating a a more nutritionally dense diet can improve your weight, well-being and overall health.

Medications and sedatives

Certain medications can aggravate sleep disorders. It is worth checking with your doctor if your medication could be affecting your sleep.

Sleeping position

Sleeping on your side is generally advised for those with sleep problems as it comfortably opens the airway.

Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnoea with CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is one of the most common ways to treat OSA. Once Sleep Apnoea has been confirmed your doctor or sleep clinic can advise if this is the best treatment for you. For CPAP therapy you will require a CPAP machine and a CPAP mask which are worn whilst you sleep. The machine delivers a constant supply of airflow to prevent your airway from collapsing.

There are also alternatives to CPAP therapy, which include Mandibular Advancement Devices and Positional Therapy, depending on the severity of Sleep Apnoea.



WatchPAT In Home Sleep Apnoea Test | Intus Healthcare

In-Home Sleep Test

If you suspect that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, then an in-home Sleep Test can provide a quick, convenient and affordable way to have it confirmed. Within two weeks you would be able to begin treatment and enjoying deep, restorative sleep again. All studies are independently analysed by experienced NHS-qualified sleep professionals, and use the WatchPAT recording device for unrivalled accuracy. Our service is tailored for people who suspect they have Sleep Apnoea, and want to have it confirmed quickly, affordably and conveniently. You must have a BMI below 45 and be aged over 18 years to take this test.