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What you need to know about sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders and is characterised by its name:

  • ‘Apneas’, which are brief lapses in a person’s breathing, and/or
  • ‘Hypopneas’, severely restricted breathing.

This page will provide you with all the information you need about sleep apnea, including how to treat it to restore your overall health and wellbeing.

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What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea (also spelt ‘sleep apnoea’) affects the way you breathe when you’re sleeping. When a person has untreated sleep apnea, their breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep.

These pauses in breathing generally last around 10 to 20 seconds and can occur up hundreds of times a night, throwing off your natural sleep rhythm. As a result, you spend more time in light sleep and less time in the deep restorative sleep that you need to be energetic, mentally sharp and productive the next day.

The chronic sleep deprivation brought on by sleep apnea results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems over time, including weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.

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People of all ages can suffer from sleep apnea, from adults to children, and even babies. The main symptoms for adults with untreated sleep apnea are those listed above, however, for children, it can also be associated with learning and behavioural issues, cardiovascular complications and even impaired growth.

However, with treatment you can control the symptoms, get your sleep back on track and begin enjoying being more refreshed and alert every day.

Want even more information? Read our article, What is sleep apnea?

What are the types of sleep apnea?

There are three types of sleep apnea that can be medically diagnosed:

1) Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is the most common type of sleep apnea, making up 84% of sleep apnea diagnoses. However, it’s estimated that just 10% of OSA sufferers seek treatment, leaving the majority undiagnosed.

OSA occurs when the soft palate tissue in the back of your throat relaxes during sleep, causing the airway to collapse or become obstructed during sleep. This blockage results in shallow or disrupted breathing, and reduced blood flow to the brain. Air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring, a common symptom of the disorder.

These sleep events, or ‘apneas’, trigger the sufferer to partially awaken so that the breathing process may resume. This is often followed by loud snorting or choking noises as the body’s respiratory system fights through the blockage.

Obstructive sleep apnea is more prevalent among older adults and those with obesity or weight issues, but it’s a disorder that can affect anyone. For example, small children who have enlarged tonsil tissues in their throats may suffer from OSA.

OSA can range from mild (5-14 episodes of interruptions to breathing per hour) all to way to severe (30 or more breathing interruptions per hour). A moderate sufferer of obstructive sleep apnea will experience anywhere from 15 to 30 apneas per hour. Over the course of an entire evening, this could mean hundreds of breathing disruptions, leaving the person feeling fatigued, moody, and depleted of energy the next day.

Being deprived of oxygen and constantly shocked back into breathing – hour after hour, night after night – puts immense strain on your body. So while you may just be feeling tired the next morning, what’s going on inside your body is much more serious.

Watch our video, What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), here.

 

2) Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is far less common than obstructive sleep apnea.

CSA sufferers experience periodic respiratory issues due to a communication failure between the brain and the body’s breathing muscles. Even though the patient’s airways may be open and unobstructed, pauses can still occur because of a breakdown in the automated breathing response.

CSA can occur with obstructive sleep apnea or alone. Snoring typically doesn't happen with central sleep apnea, which can often lead to the illness going undetected.

3) Complex or Mixed Sleep Apnea

Mixed sleep apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea syndrome, is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea conditions.

When both apneas are present, not only does the brain fail to engage the body’s breathing muscles (as with central sleep apnea), obstructions in the breathing canal can also act to severely restrict airflow to the lungs (obstructive sleep apnea). 

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

Does this sound like you?

  • “My bed partner keeps complaining about my snoring”
  • “I regularly wake up with headaches”
  • “I feel like I have no energy during the day”
  • “I’m exhausted and have difficulty concentrating at work”

If so, there’s a good chance that you may be suffering from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can be debilitating if left undiagnosed, which is why it’s so important to understand the warning signs and adopt measures to manage this illness.

The direct sign of sleep apnea occurs when a person is asleep and snoring and proceeds to choke or gasp for air during pauses.

Watch our video, Why Do We Snore, here: 

Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine if you have sleep apnea because it happens subconsciously while you sleep. The only way you could be made aware would be if a housemate or partner observes your unusual sleeping habits, or you record yourself during the night.

However, there are several key indicators that you can look out for that may suggest that you could be suffering from sleep apnea.

  • Snoring
  • Laboured breathing or frequent breaks in breathing
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor or restless sleep
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of energy
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction


To read more, visit our blog, True or false? The top 5 sleep apnea myths busted, where you can learn about the common misconceptions regarding the condition.

What to do if you have the symptoms of sleep apnea

 

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms and suspect that sleep apnea may be the cause, the first step is to take an online sleep assessment. A sleep specialist will be in touch to discuss the results and advise you on whether to take a home sleep test to confirm if you have the disorder.

TAKE OUR FREE SLEEP ASSESSMENT

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How does sleep apnea affect health?

Sleep apnea can be a serious threat to health if left untreated, and can cause a range of medical conditions.

These can include:

  • High blood pressure:
    • If you suffer from untreated sleep apnea, you may also be experiencing elevated blood pressure. This occurs due to tension in the body from having to maintain a constant flow of oxygen to the heart and brain
  • Other cardiovascular disease:
    • Sleep apnea is a major risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues. When left untreated, patients with moderate OSA are three times more likely to experience a stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes:
    • Although there’s no proven causal relationship between sleep apnea and diabetes, approximately 80% of patients with OSA also suffer from this illness. This may be due to sleep apnea affecting the body’s ability to use insulin.
  • Memory problems
  • Acid reflux:
    • Many researchers claim that OSA can lead to pressure changes in the airway, sometimes causing acid reflux to occur.
  • Adult asthma:
    • Not only does asthma put you at higher risk of developing sleep apnea, but sleep apnea itself can aggravate symptoms for adult asthma sufferers by worsening inflammation in the lungs, exacerbating acid reflux, and irritating the smooth muscle around the airways.
  • Weight gain
  • Impotence
  • Headaches, and more.

DrivingSleepy

Additionally, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible in more indirect ways, such as job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.

This is because people who have sleep apnea are also likely experiencing the effects of sleep deprivation. When you are sleep deprived, your body and brain are unable to function optimally during the day, inhibiting your ability to properly execute even the most basic of tasks. This impairment is why people with untreated OSA are 3 times more likely to suffer from workplace accidents and are at a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle accidents (from four to six times).

For more information about the health-related consequences of it being left untreated, read our article Why is sleep apnea dangerous?

How is sleep apnea tested for?

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If you’re experiencing some of the above symptoms and suspect that sleep apnea may be the cause, it’s best to take appropriate action. You can do this via the following:

The Online Sleep Assessment

The first step is to take an online sleep assessment. It only takes a few minutes to complete and will give you more information regarding your circumstances.

Upon completion, a sleep specialist will be in touch to discuss the results and advise you on whether to take a home sleep test to confirm if you have the disorder.

TAKE OUR FREE SLEEP ASSESSMENT

Home Sleep Test

Home sleep testing by EdenSleep is a safe and convenient way to detect if you have a sleep disorder using the latest technologies from the world's leading sleep companies.

A Home Sleep Test is a small device that you can order right to your door via courier. You simply use it at night while you sleep and it will collect data to be sent to you and your Sleep Professional to determine more accurate readings.

To find out more, visit our Overnight Sleep Test page.

How is sleep apnea treated?

There are numerous benefits of treating sleep apnea.

Taking steps to manage your condition can help with alleviating the long list of symptoms, lead to a better night’s sleep, and improve your overall physical and mental well-being.

Before you begin the journey toward treatment, it’s best to consider which method will best suit your individual circumstances and lifestyle. You may also wish to consult a physician first to help guide you.

The most common treatment options for snoring and sleep apnea treatment include:

1) CPAP therapy

CPAPTherapy

Sleep apnea is most commonly and effectively treated by Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. With CPAP, the user’s airways are kept open with the aid of a breathing machine and mask that’s worn over the nose and/or face. The equipment helps sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep.

Want more information? Read our article on CPAP Therapy.

2) Provent therapy

Provent is a safe and non-invasive treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea, using a disposable medical device worn over the nostrils to maintain normal breathing at night and keep airflow unobstructed.

3) Lifestyle changes

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Making simple adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits can help with reducing some of the symptoms of sleep apnea. For example, if you are overweight, shedding a few kilos can reduce your snoring, increase energy levels, and positively impact your general health. Alcohol can aggravate the symptoms of sleep apnea, so cutting down on your alcohol consumption can contribute to a better, more healthier you.

4) Oral appliances

Dental appliances, such as a mandibular repositioning device (MRB), can help with keeping your upper airways open by increasing the amount of space behind the tongue. These mouthguard-like devices can help with preventing apneas and snoring and have been shown to be particularly effective with mild OSA patients.

5) Theravent therapy

Theravent is similar to Provent in that it’s a nasal strip designed to reduce or stop snoring, one of the most noticeable symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Unlike Provent, however, Theravent is an anti-snoring device only and cannot be used to treat OSA.

6) Surgery

Some patients undergo surgical procedures to increase the size of the airway, allowing for a greater flow of air and less chance of obstruction.

The Benefits of Sleep Apnea Treatment

Being diagnosed with sleep apnea and having to undertake treatment can be an overwhelming thought at first.

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However, the benefits of reducing the symptoms will allow you to reclaim your quality of life and quickly outweigh any negatives you may experience. 

You’ll feel like a new you when your prescribed treatment option restores your healthy sleep patterns and you begin to rest well again each night. 

For help along your journey, visit our page Are you new to sleep apnea treatment?

We hope that you are now feeling empowered about sleep apnea treatment and are ready to take your next step in restoring quality sleep to improve your health and well-being. 

Heeding all of the advice and information will set you on the road to regaining your quality of life. But remember that it takes a while for most people to get comfortable with treatment.

Your next step: how our Online Sleep Assessment can help you

If you are experiencing problems getting enough quality sleep and you believe it may be sleep apnea, you may wish to consider undertaking a free online sleep assessment to better understand how to improve your restful state and your overall health.

The assessment asks you a series of simple questions designed to help you uncover the cause, then conveniently sends the results to you via an email.

You can access the Sleep Assessment here:

TAKE OUR FREE SLEEP ASSESSMENT

References

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8464434

2 Morgenthaler TI et al. Complex sleep apnea syndrome: is it a unique clinical syndrome? Sleep 2006;29(9):1203-9.

3 Goldstein et al, Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke. A Guideline for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association/American Stroke, Stroke, Dec 5, 2010.

4 https://www.verywell.com/sleep-apnea-and-asthma-83029

5 https://www.resmed.com/us/en/healthcare-professional/research-and-education/research/traffic-accidents.html

6 https://www.resmed.com/au/en/consumer/diagnosis-and-treatment/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea-treatment/sleep-apnea-treatment-options.html

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