Sleeping is something most of us take for granted until for one reason or another we cannot get a good night's sleep.
There can be a wide range of causes for this; anxiety or stress may stop us sleeping, but there may also be a physical cause like snoring. The following information will give you some insight into the problem of snoring and sleep apnoea and what kind of investigations and treatments there are available.
Snoring is a problem for many people, notably for the families of snorers rather than the snorers themselves. For the person who has never experienced the sleepless nights spent listening to our loved one snoring it might be seen as a bit of a joke; but for those people who spend night after night with very little sleep it can become a major problem and no laughing matter. There are around 15 million snorers in the UK, but around 600,000 of those snorers will be unaware that they are suffering from the more serious condition of sleep apnoea.
Snoring is a sound made by vibrations of the soft palate and the tissues of the mouth, nose and throat. This is caused by a partial blockage of the airway (breathing tubes) anywhere between the nose and the vocal chords. During sleep muscle tone is reduced; in other words the muscles go floppy and this may cause the airway tissue to vibrate and in some severe cases it may cause blockage of the airway (apnoea).
OSA is associated with a history of snoring, often interrupted by pauses, gasps and startle episodes. It is caused by an obstruction of the airway which leads to a cessation of breathing for periods of 10 seconds or more. These pauses in breathing can occur many times throughout the night.
The obstruction of the airway only happens during sleep because when we sleep our muscles lose their tone and become floppy and in certain people this can cause our airway to block. This leads to a reduction in the levels of oxygen in our body and when this is detected by the brain we are then roused from sleep, usually with a gasp or snort and we are able to breathe again. If this happens throughout the night we are not able to get a good restful sleep and then become very sleepy during the day, often falling asleep whilst watching television, whilst reading or even in the middle of a conversation.
Sufferers may experience all or only some of the following symptoms:
If you have some or all of the above symptoms you should contact your GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist centre where you can be tested for sleep apnoea.