Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a condition in which the muscles of the throat relax involuntary which causes problems with breathing during sleep. These relaxed muscles can completely obstruct the airways for around 10 seconds which may cause the sleeper to wake up.

These repeated interruptions mean that the person affected is likely to be tired and less alert the next day. This sleep deprivation can lead to a whole range of problems which include high blood pressure.

On a lesser level it also causes snoring which is more of a problem in people with high blood pressure.

Causes of sleep apnoea

Interestingly enough, high blood pressure is also a cause of this condition. But there are a few other factors which include:

  • Age: this condition tends to occur in people aged 40 and above.
  • Gender: men are more likely to be affected than women
  • Obesity: the higher your BMI measurement the greater the risk of sleep apnoea.
  • Medicine: certain medicines such as antidepressants or tranquillisers act as a sedative which may relax the throat muscles.
  • Anatomy: you are more at risk if you have a very narrow airway or larger than normal tonsils or tongue.

These risk factors are known to cause this condition but there are also a few suggestions as well which include smoking, drinking alcohol last thing at night, the menopause and a family history of sleep apnoea.

Symptoms of sleep apnoea

A very obvious sign is snoring! If your partner snores very loudly which is accompanied by laboured breathing or gasping then they may be experiencing sleep apnoea.

If you are affected then you will not realise that you have sleep apnoea apart from the fact that you will be very tired the next day. This lack of a decent night’s sleep may stay with you over a period of time and can lead to sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is an unpleasant condition which impacts upon your physical and mental wellbeing not to mention your ability to function at work.

The symptoms of this include:

  • Extreme tiredness or a feeling of being unable to keep one’s eyes open.
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor memory
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Impotence (in men)

A major effect of sleep deprivation is high blood pressure. An inability to get enough sleep each night causes your blood pressure to rise which can lead to long term health problems. Another side effect of this condition is impaired judgement which can be dangerous in certain situations, e.g. driving. Driving whilst excessively tired and/or lack of concentration increases the risk of a serious accident.

How do you diagnose sleep apnoea?

It is a good idea to ask your spouse or partner to watch you when you are asleep. They can look out for episodes of breathlessness, gasping or laboured breathing.

The next step is to visit your GP. He or she will examine you as well as asking you about your medical history. He/she will ask measure your blood pressure as high blood pressure is a trigger for this condition.

You will undergo a blood test which is designed to rule out any underlying conditions.

Your GP will then refer you to a specialist sleep centre where you will undergo further tests.

Treatment for sleep apnoea

This includes changes to your lifestyle, e.g. losing weight and medication to control your blood pressure. You will be advised to stop smoking (if you are a smoking) and to avoid taking any sedatives such as sleeping pills.

If your sleep apnoea is serious then you will be given special breathing apparatus which you wear whilst asleep. This is designed to keep your airways open and help your breathing. It takes the form of a mask (similar to an oxygen mask) which you wear over your nose.

This device is known as ‘continuous positive airway pressure’(CPAP).

Other options include stimulants and surgery although that is a last resort.

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