Do you frequently doze during the day? Do you constantly wake during the night for no apparent reason? Have you been told you snore or stop breathing during the night? Is your partner complaining that your snoring is affecting their sleep? If these symptoms occur regularly, you might be suffering from a serious health condition called Sleep Apnoea. According to a report, sleep apnoea affects over 1 million Australians and roughly, 80% of them are undiagnosed.

Sleep apnoea can affect anyone and is not restricted by age or gender. It is however more common in men and the likelihood of having it increases with age. Women particularly should be aware of the risk of developing it as they age because about one in ten women over the age of 50 will have sleep apnoea, but it often goes unrecognised.

The most common type of sleep apnoea is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which is characterised by repeated collapsing and reopening of the upper airway during sleep. Many sufferers will be extremely tired the next day  because, even though they may appear to be getting sufficient hours of sleep they, unknowingly, are waking up to hundreds of times a night to open their airway.

Untreated sleep apnoea can result in serious health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, headache, and may lead to depression.

Conditions that can greatly affect the chance of Sleep Apnoea include:

  1. Being overweight (obesity)
  2. Family history (genetics)
  3. Allergy and sinus problems
  4. Age over 40
  5. Particular facial features such as a receding chin or narrow or damaged nasal passages.

What Should You Do?
Sleep apnoea is a serious medical condition but there are effective treatments including Continuous Positive airway Pressure (CPAP) and various oral appliances. So if you suspect you are suffering from sleep apnoea, be sure to consult your doctor who can refer you to an overnight sleep study that measures your sleep, breathing and oxygen levels.

Good sleep is essential to our health and feelings of happiness so whether you have sleep apnoea or not it is always important to adopt good sleep practices such as going to bed at a regular time, switching off technology at least an hour before bedtime, avoiding alcohol and caffeine after 3pm and  not going  to bed on a full stomach.

By Dr Carmel Harrington (BSc, PhD, LLB, DipEd), one of the world’s leading authorities on sleep.

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