If you’ve been rudely kept from your slumber during the night by a snoring partner — or if you’re the snorer yourself — you’ll know that snoring can be pretty annoying. But did you know that beyond that, it can be a health concern? This week is National Stop Snoring Week, and the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association is raising awareness about sleep apnoea and the possible health risks it can present.
Sleep apnoea is a condition where you briefly stop breathing during the night due to a narrowing of the airway. It’s normal for your airway to narrow slightly while you sleep due to your muscles relaxing. However, for some people this is more severe, cutting off the airway altogether. The most obvious sign of sleep apnoea is loud snoring; this is punctuated by pauses, and sometimes coughing or gasping before the snoring begins again. This means that someone who lives with you may be better able to tell whether you might have sleep apnoea.
If you don’t share a bed with anyone, a telltale sign of sleep apnoea is periods of waking during the night. This is because the momentary lack of oxygen to your brain can force you to wake up. If you find that you’re very tired in the morning but are not sure why, sleep apnoea is a possible cause. If you are overweight, smoke, have a large neck circumference or a small lower jaw, or are taking medicines with a sedative effect, you might be at higher risk for sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea also affects more men than women, and while anyone can have it, it is more often found in people over the age of 40.
Sleep apnoea can be dangerous, even fatal, if the airway is blocked for too long. Luckily, there are several ways to treat the condition. Losing weight, giving up smoking, or even just sleeping on your side are all things that can help with sleep apnoea. People with milder sleep apnoea may only experience pauses in breathing when on their back, so may only need to change their sleeping position. Try lying on your side and putting a couple of pillows behind you. For more severe cases, greater measures may be necessary, such as a special mouth guard or a CPAP machine, which holds the airway open during the night.
If you think you might have sleep apnoea or are not sure of the best course of treatment for you, you can consult your doctor, who may refer you for further tests.