Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
is a sleep disorder which is thought to affect over 1.5 million people in Australia – or 5% of the population. Most often found in males over the age of 60, OSA involves repeated occurrences of the throat being obstructed – either partially or completely – during a night’s sleep. This can happen numerous times without the subject ever realising they have a medical problem.
COULD YOU BE AFFECTED BY THIS COMMON SLEEP DISORDER?
People who suffer from OSA may not be aware that they have a sleep disorder at all, which explains why up to 90% of occurrences of the condition worldwide are undiagnosed. OSA sufferers tend to snore loudly and toss and turn during the night, which can be disturbing both for them and their partner. The disruptive effects of OSA sometimes manifest themselves through gasping or choking, however, this isn’t always the case. If you do any of the above, it’s likely that your partner will have made you aware.
If you are unaware of any of the above occurring during your average sleep, think about whether or not you’re regularly tired during the day, especially during the afternoon. Disrupted sleep could have a big impact on your daily life – people with OSA are two and a half times more likely to be involved in a car accident than others [Source]
WHY YOU SHOULD GET CHECKED
Whether you’re young or old, male or female, if you or a partner has noticed any symptoms of OSA, you should seek a diagnosis from a medical professional. Undiagnosed OSA can lead to increased blood pressure and more serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke or diabetes.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
If you suspect that you may be suffering from OSA, it’s recommended that you consult your local GP who can diagnose your symptoms via a sleep study and, hopefully, improve your condition. Numerous treatments are available, including the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) method.
Driver fatigue is one of the main causes of accidents in Australia. Sleep apnea
is one of the most insidious sleep disorders, where the throat closes partially or fully during sleep and often triggers people to wake many times over a night. People often don’t realise that they have sleep apnea initially, but simply feel tired and experience some of the symptoms of the disorder including afternoon tiredness and lack of focus.
DRIVER FATIGUE IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
Some of the risks of sleep apnea include driver fatigue. In fact, drivers that suffer from sleep apnea have a range of risks when driving including a risk of falling asleep at the wheel and reduced reaction times when they face unexpected issues. This can make them more likely to crash into other vehicles or to have single car incidents.
WHEN IS IT MORE LIKELY?
Sleep apnea can occur at any time but most sufferers have a natural dip in energy in the middle of the afternoon as the body’s circadian rhythms attempt to send the person to sleep to catch up on the missed rest. Additionally, in the middle and late afternoon, the sun is often low in the sky and this can affect overall visibility on the road, further increasing the risk of a crash.
HOW CAN I TELL IF I AM, OR SOMEONE I KNOW, IS AT RISK?
While the only way you can definitely tell if you have sleep apnea is by having a sleep study with a doctor, there are some signs that can be observed at home including chronic and loud snoring, as well as waking up tired even when you allow yourself to sleep until you naturally wake up (such as on the weekend). Luckily, there are some easy ways to treat sleep apnea, including using a CPAP machine (with CPAP mask) or a BPAP machine as you sleep, which gently pushes air into the mouth and nose helping people with sleep apnea to stay asleep and get better quality sleep throughout the night.
If you are worried that you, or a loved one, may have sleep apnea you should make an appointment to see your doctor and get a referral for a sleep study. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea there are some easy and effective treatments to help relieve your fatigue and allow you to perform at your best.
SLEEP APNEA BEGINNING TO BE RECOGNISED AS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
, which is characterised by repeated episodes of throat obstruction during the sleep cycle, can be very difficult to live with on a physical level, particularly if treatment is not sought. However, if that wasn’t difficult enough, sleep apnea can also be the cause of a number of mental health issues, which are only just starting to be scrutinised within the medical community. In fact, many patients may notice these symptoms before the sleep apnea itself is diagnosed. In this way, it is important to look out for the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one:
While dreaming is often thought of as an elusive and otherworldly phenomenon, tracking dream patterns can actually provide clues to overall health. OSA sufferers, for example, often find it difficult to enter the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep that facilitates dreaming. As dreaming is a great tool for testing out anxiety-inducing situations and future goals, being unable to do so can heighten anxiety and memory retention in the waking world. Indeed, this can cause significant mental health problems for sleep apnea patients, and diagnosis and treatment should be sought.
While many of us like to think we are patient with our partners, sleeping next to someone with sleep apnea can significantly affect a person’s sleep quality due to the associated snoring. This can naturally lead to relationship issues. If you or a partner have sleep apnea symptoms, it’s a good idea to get things checked out and nip it in the bud before things escalate too far.
GENERALISED COGNITIVE DIFFICULTIES
As sleep apnea prevents dreaming and REM sleep, it can leave sufferers feeling tired and spaced out during the day. Indeed, this can lead to significant cognitive difficulties including an inability to concentrate, memory problems, and low or irritable mood. To make things worse, worrying about these issues can make the sleep apnea worse at night, creating a vicious cycle. In this way, as with the myriad mental health issues that sleep apnea can cause, it is important to consult your doctor on these issues.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
or OSA is a fairly common condition and is caused by the walls of the throat relaxing and contracting during sleep, which results in interruptions to normal breathing. This can lead to disturbed sleep patterns, a negative impact on quality of life due to regular sleep interruptions. OSA may also cause the development of other conditions.
SYMPTOMS OF OSA
If you develop OSA it’s likely that people around you will notice you snore fairly loudly and struggle to breathe. It may also be quite noticeable that you stop breathing for a short space of time during the night. You may wake up quite often throughout the night and could find yourself struggling to breathe – or even choking. The shortage of oxygen during episodes triggers your brain to pull you into a lighter sleep or to wake up. These continued sleep interruptions are likely to make you feel extremely tired during the day. Many patients are unaware that they suffer from OSA.
Characteristic breathing interruptions caused by the condition include:
- Apnea – which is where the muscles and tissues in the throat relax enough to cause a total blockage of the air passage for at least 10 seconds.
- Hypoapnea – this is a partial blockage of the air passage resulting in airflow reductions of more than 50% for at least 10 seconds.
CAUSES OF OSA
It’s quite normal for the throat to collapse to a small degree when you sleep, as the soft tissues and muscles will always relax at this time. However, this does not cause breathing problems for most people.
- OSA can be caused by a variety of reasons, including:
- Age – people over the age of 40 are more likely to develop the condition
- Sex – men develop OSA more often than women
- Weight – people who are overweight have excess body fat which increases the amount of soft tissue in the neck, placing more stress on neck muscles
- Sedatives – regularly taking sedatives such as sleeping tablets or tranquilisers can increase risks of developing the condition
- Alcohol – regular alcohol consumption, particularly just before bedtime, can worsen the condition
- Smoking – people who smoke are more likely to develop the condition.
In the main, treatment options such as lifestyle changes can reduce symptoms, however, there are treatments for OSA. These include the use of a continuous positive airways pressure device (CPAP) and oral appliances, known as mandibular advancement devices.
IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE OSA
Many sufferers of OSA are not aware that they have it. There are a number of tell-tale signs that can give you an idea.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness – Because the sufferer awakens repeatedly with OSA, normal, restorative sleep is not possible. This can often lead to severe daytime drowsiness, as well as fatigue and irritability.
- Loud snoring – Snoring is not commonly thought of as a sign of something potentially serious. Your partner may be woken up and will listen in frustration. They should be looking out for long pauses in breathing (lasting many seconds). It should be stressed that not everyone who snores has OSA.
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking – Because an Apnea means you have stopped breathing for a short while, your body naturally struggles. This can lead to you wakening with a shortness of breath that corrects itself reasonably quickly. Most of the time, you are still “asleep” but may make a snorting, choking or gasping sound.
- Difficulty concentrating during the day – When sleep deprived, sufferers may have difficulty concentrating. They find themselves falling asleep when the body is at rest, such as at the desk, watching TV. OSA is becoming recognised as a risk factor when when driving. Many jurisdictions require proof of therapy when renewing licences. Children and young people with OSA may not do well at school. OSA has been associated with attention or behavior problems.
If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, talk to your GP and ask for a referral to a Sleep Specialist. They may suggest that you undergo a sleep study where your sleeping habits can be reviewed.