What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life, yet many people don’t know they have it. Here, we explain the symptoms and what you can do to help yourself.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep. It can occur in men and women of any age but is most common in middle-aged men. 

The muscles and tissues in the throat relax when we sleep which causes the airway to narrow. For people with OSA, the narrowing of the airway is severe enough to stop their breathing for a short time. This causes the brain to wake up the body briefly. It can happen many times throughout the night without you noticing.1

Symptoms of sleep apnoea

Symptoms of OSA are often noticed by a partner or family member while you sleep. These symptoms include:1,2

when asleep: 

  • Snoring and loud, laboured breathing
  • Periods where breathing stops or is interrupted by gasping
  • Disturbed sleep 
  • Needing to go to the toilet during the night 
when awake:
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating and excessive tiredness
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Poor memory
  • Loss of libido
  • Heartburn

Causes of sleep apnoea

Whilst anyone can get OSA, it is more frequent in males and those aged 40 and above. In women it is more common in those past menopause. Being overweight or having a large neck also increases your likelihood of having OSA. You are also more likely to have OSA if the condition is present in your family history1,2. Certain external factors can also increase your susceptibility to OSA, including: 

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking sleeping pills or tranquillisers1,2

Diagnosing and seeking advice

If you think you have OSA you should talk to your GP. They will be able to advise you on the best approach and can book you an assessment at a sleep clinic. There are various online self-assessment tests that can help determine how much your life is affected by your lack of sleep. If you decide to discuss the matter with your GP, bring the results of the self-assessment with you. 

If you are sent to a sleep clinic they will probably ask you to perform a sleep study. This is usually done at home with equipment they have lent you, but may sometimes be done at the sleep clinic3. There are other options for testing at home including mobile phone apps, however these devices are not as thorough as the tests performed during a sleep study2.

Treating sleep apnoea


There are a variety of treatments available to reduce the severity of OSA. In most cases treatment will have to be continued for life. Lifestyle modification may help you manage the symptoms of OSA. Cutting down on drinking, stopping smoking, losing weight and good bedtime habits can all make a difference. You could also try sleeping on your side1. If these do not work you may be prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. 

This delivers pressurised air through a mask to prevent your airway from closing1. There are many oral appliances that have been developed over the last few years which are worn inside the mouth and prevent the jaw from falling backwards and blocking the airway. This is generally seen as an alternative for those who cannot use CPAP4. Surgery on the obstruction is often possible, but, although it is not dangerous, it can be painful and is usually not successful on its own. It is generally used as a last resort .

Health risks of sleep apnoea

If OSA is not treated it can have a large impact on your life, affecting your physical health, level of stress, relationships, concentration and performance at work. It may increase your risk of high blood pressure, experiencing a stroke, developing diabetes and encountering heart complications1. In addition, drivers who are tired, including as a result of sleep apnoea are more likely to be involved in a car accident. Therefore if you are diagnosed with OSA it may mean your ability to drive is affected and you will have to notify the DVLA1

To learn more about how you can manage the condition, understand the steps you can take to sleep more and snore less and read about BMI Healthcare’s sleep clinic, which offers specialist tests and treatments to people with sleep disorders.

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 or
make an online enquiry.



You may also like…

Eye health can be easily neglected as some serious eye problems don’t have any visible symptoms.
This is why you need to make regular trips to the ophthalmologist. Read more

We’re all aware of how important sleep is for our health. But are we getting enough? And, if not, how can we change that?
Read more

It's World Diabetes Day on 14th November – let's look more closely at the symptoms and treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Read more

It's the start of the celebration season, but how much is too much, and how is it affecting your health?
Read more

There no waiting lists when you pay for yourself. Download our treatment price list
Sign up to Health Matters updates