What is sleep apnoea and how to manage it?

Sleep apnoea is a common sleep disorder that can seriously affect your health and quality of life. In this article, we will look at the causes of night apnoea, how it affects the body, and how it can be treated and prevented.

Causes of night apnoea

The most common type of nighttime apnoea is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). It is caused by a partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep. Several factors can contribute to the development of OSA:

Being overweight: Being overweight and having fat deposits in the neck and throat can increase pressure on the airway and cause it to become blocked during sleep.

Anatomical features: Some people have narrow airways, a large tongue, or enlarged adenoids and tonsils, which can prevent normal airflow during sleep.

Muscle and nerve disorders: Rare cases of nocturnal apnoea may be associated with a disorder of the nervous system that controls breathing, or with disorders of the throat and tongue muscles.

What is sleep apnoea and how to manage it?
"Sleeping" / Photo by Tobyotter / CC BY 2.0

Health effects of sleep apnoea

Night-time sleep apnoea has a significant impact on the body and can lead to the following problems

Oxygen deprivation: When you stop breathing, your body does not get enough oxygen. This can lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, which can cause cardiovascular problems.

Cardiovascular complications: Nocturnal apnoea is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, arrhythmia and heart attack.

Daytime sleepiness and sleep disturbance: Frequent arousals during sleep and brief cessation of breathing can disrupt normal sleep cycles and lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue and reduced quality of life.

Increased risk of stroke: Night-time apnoea can contribute to blood clots and high blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke.

Treatment for night-time sleep apnoea may include the following approaches

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): The most common and effective treatment. The patient wears a special mask through which pressurised air is delivered to maintain airway capacity.

Lifestyle changes: Weight loss, avoiding smoking and alcohol, regular exercise and improving sleep hygiene can help reduce the symptoms of night-time apnoea.

Surgery: In some cases, surgery to remove excess tissue in the throat or correct anatomical abnormalities may be necessary.

Use of orthotics and appliances: Orthotics to support the jaw and tongue and devices to move the lower jaw forward can help maintain airway clearance.

Preventing nocturnal apnoea

Watch your weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Avoid smoking and limit alcohol.
Sleep on your side and use a pillow to support your posture.
Have regular health checks and check-ups with your doctor.

Prepared by Christina Ashmole

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