If someone told you that you had stopped breathing in your sleep on a hundred occasions, you would probably find it hard to believe. Yet that’s exactly what sleep apnea, an increasingly common condition, can mean. Today there are around 1.5m people sufferers in the UK. This figure is growing year on year.
What is Sleep Apnea?
There are two types of this condition, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and the less common, Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). With OSA, soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep, meaning too little air is being breathed in. With CSA, a malfunctioning of the respiratory control centre means that the brain does not tell your muscles to breathe at all!
In both cases, these ‘apneic’ events cause the brain to ‘wake up’ to get the body breathing properly again.
Who is At Risk?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age. Although there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition, such as being male, being overweight and suffering from a nasal obstruction. Also having a large neck size (greater than 17 inches in men, 16 inches in women), being over the age of 40, suffering from chronic gastroesophageal reflux and having large tonsils can make you more susceptible.
Sleep Apnea On The Rise
Testing undertaken by the NHS to diagnose people with sleep apnea across England has doubled in the past decade. According to the NHS, 147,610 sleep diagnostic tests were carried out in 2016-17, compared with 69,919 in 2007-08.
Why Is Sleep Apnea Increasing?
Partly, the condition is now better understood, so some of the rise is attributable to improved approaches to testing and diagnosis. But social and health factors also play a role too. This is particularly the case with obesity, a leading cause of sleep apnea. UK levels of obesity have risen 92 per cent since the 1990s.
The Health Impact of Sleep Apnea
Along with the day-to-day effects of disturbed sleep, such as irritability, sleepiness and a lack of clear thinking, sleep apnea can also contribute to several long-term health problems if left untreated. These include, migraines, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and heart issues (such as irregular heart beats and the increased risk of heart failure and heart attacks.)
Could I have Sleep Apnea?
There are some tell-tale symptoms that could mean you’re suffering. Do you snore loudly or wake up with a sore throat? Do you suffer from morning headaches, endure restless sleep, bouts of insomnia or daytime sleepiness? If the answer is yes to any of the above then you could be a sufferer.
What Should I Do?
Go and see your GP. If sleep apnea is suspected, they will arrange the necessary referral to a local sleep centre. The sleep specialists there will arrange for your sleep to be assessed overnight. This can be done by either spending the night at the clinic or taking some equipment home with you that will monitor your sleep, which the clinic can then analyse the next day.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
Most cases are treated with a mixture of lifestyle changes (such as losing weight, drinking less and stopping smoking). Some cases require the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This is a small pump that delivers a constant supply of compressed air through a mask. The compressed air stops your throat from closing.
Get The Treatment You Need
Sleep apnea can change over time. Therefore it’s always important to make sure that you get the right treatment. At the moment, just under half of the 1.5 million people thought to be living with sleep apnea in the UK have a moderate to severe form of the disorder. But, fewer than half of these are currently receiving the required treatment!