Across the globe, millions of people snore. It’s often thought of as a bad habit, a night-time annoyance that keeps you or your partner awake. But you shouldn’t dismiss snoring so easily – not when it can seriously affect your health.
Sunday 7th April marks World Health Day. If you’ve never considered the impact snoring can have on your wellbeing, it’s a good time to reconsider. Snoring is often one of the first symptoms of a serious sleep condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
Snoring is caused by a narrowing of the airway, particularly at the back of the throat. If your airway narrows too much when you’re asleep, the air you breathe is then pulled through it faster. This causes the soft tissue in the back of your throat to dehydrate and vibrate. The sound you hear is what most people know as snoring.
In some cases, the airway becomes so narrow that the walls of the airway stick together and close up. This usually happens for 10-30 seconds but can occur for longer – sometimes up to 50 times an hour or even more. When the airway finally opens up again, you’ll produce a loud, violent snore. This is known as an apnoea.
Throughout the night, your body will constantly ‘wake itself up’ to a lighter stage of sleep in order to breathe. This is why many people with OSA feel so tired the following day.
What are the signs of sleep apnoea?
Indications of OSA when asleep include:
- Excessive or loud snoring
- Periods of laboured breathing
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Frequent toilet trips during the night
Signs of sleep apnoea when awake include:
- Frequently waking up with a headache
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (still feeling tired after 8 hours sleep)
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Lack of interest in sex
- Irritability and mood swings
How could OSA affect me?
Some severe forms of sleep apnoea can cause you to wake up or move out of a deep sleep hundreds of times a night without you even realising it’s happening. All forms of sleep apnoea mean that you are getting less oxygen circulating in your blood than your body needs.
There are also several serious medical conditions related to OSA. Evidence suggests that sleep apnoea can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk of serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
OSA has also been linked to increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that causes a person’s blood sugar (glucose) level to become too high. Sleep apnoea can cause your body to become less able to break down glucose properly, making it really important to find the right treatment for your sleep apnoea.
How do I treat OSA?
If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnoea, your doctor will advise you to make some healthy lifestyle changes. The following could result in a significant improvement in your condition:
- Losing weight
- Stopping smoking
- Getting more exercise
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Avoiding certain medications (such as sedatives)
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
If you’re diagnosed with OSA in the UK, the NICE-approved treatment through the NHS is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). You will be issued with a CPAP machine and mask like the one pictured below.
CPAP works by increasing the air pressure in your upper airway and throat. This helps to make sure your airway does not collapse so that you can breathe normally.
Many people find CPAP uncomfortable, inconvenient to use, and hard to get along with. Studies show that up to 60% of patients abandon CPAP, and many stop treatment. If you’re currently using a CPAP machine, but find it difficult to tolerate, it can be dangerous to stop your treatment. You should speak to your doctor to see what options are available for you to treat your sleep apnoea without CPAP.
Oral Devices / Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs)
Another common treatment option for OSA is an Oral Device. They’re sometimes called mandibular advancement devices, snoring mouthpieces, or snoring mouth guards. These devices are similar to gum shields, and they work by holding your jaw forward (or simply stopping it from falling backwards) during sleep. This helps to keep your airway open, stopping it from collapsing during the night and helping you to breathe easily and quietly. You can find out more about how the Snoreeze Oral Device works by clicking here.
Celebrate World Health Day in the best way possible – by giving yourself the chance to live an active and healthy life, free from daytime sleepiness and night-time nudges.