WMy partner has long commented on how I “give her a fright” when I’m sleeping. I snore which can sometimes be a problem for her, but she has regularly stated that I often stop breathing in my sleep entirely and for very long periods before resuming again, while other times I appear to be struggling for breath. This is considerably worse, apparently, on occasions I have been drinking alcohol. Recently, on
mentioning this to a relative, I was told that it might be sleep apnoea. An uncle of mine has been diagnosed with it and sleeps wearing an oxygen mask. This is beginning to worry me. What can you
tell me about my symptoms and might it be dangerous? I am a man in my mid-40s. hen we sleep, the muscles in our throat become more floppy. In most people this is not a problem. However, in those with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), the muscles are so floppy that they cause the airway to narrow or collapse completely. This blocks off the airway causing breathing to stop (apnoea) or episodes of very shallow breathing (hypopnoea). Classically these episodes cause grunting, gasping or missed breaths during sleep. The afflicted person is unaware but their partner will hear them and may find these episodes frightening. Many will often worry that the next breath may never come.
Reduced airflow leads to a fall in oxygen levels in the blood. The brain responds by increasing the effort to breathe, usually causing the person to gasp, grunt or wake briefly. The person then settles back to sleep and the cycle starts again. We all have occasional episodes of apnoea but if these episodes are occurring more than five times an hour, then OSA is the likely diagnosis. Many people who suffer from OSA are unaware that they are not sleeping well. They don’t recall the frequent nocturnal waking but their partners are acutely aware of the problem.
Those with severe OSA may fall asleep during daily activities such as driving or operating machinery; the risk of car crash is increased by 7pc to 12pc. Other symptoms include poor concentration or irritability, morning headaches, unrefreshing sleep and depression.
The recurrent episodes of low oxygen cause increased release of stress hormones. This ultimately puts a strain on the heart leading to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. There is also a link between OSA and diabetes.