This is a condition that affects your breathing during sleep due to a narrowing or momentary closure of the airway. Although you may be unaware of it happening it results in disturbed sleep, leading to many symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness.
Your partner may hear the tell-tale signs of sleep apnoea while you sleep - snoring followed by a period of silence, and then perhaps a loud snort or a gasp as you resume breathing.
Once recognised and diagnosed, this condition is easily treated and can transform your quality of life and improve other related health issues.
The three types of sleep apnoea
This occurs when the muscles controlling the upper airway relax during sleep. If they relax too much, the upper airway becomes narrow and some people begin to snore. If the airway becomes too narrow, breathing difficulties may occur. And sometimes, the airway closes completely, stopping the sufferer from breathing. This can last for ten seconds or more, and may recur hundreds of times a night.
Central sleep apnoea is different, as the airway remains open, but a person's respiratory drive has been affected in some way, and no effort is made to breath for a period of time.
This form of sleep apnoea is a combination of Obstructive and Central events during sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is the most common of these.
Here's what happens...
The soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes during sleep, lack of muscle tone and gravity then cause the airway to narrow resulting in vibration, causing snoring. If the airway continues to collapse an obstruction follows causing an apnoea.
Partial closure of the airway results in decreased airflow and shallow breathing, this is often referred to as a hypopnoea.
When the airway is totally closed, breathing stops. The person will wake up enough to regain control of the upper airway, breathe again, and then fall back to sleep.
These episodes are in excess of 10 seconds each and may occur hundreds of times a night. Quite often the sufferer is unaware of the problem.
Each obstruction deprives the body of oxygen and forces it to retain carbon dioxide that it would normally breathe out. As a result, the body's blood gases get out of balance.
When the body realises that it needs more oxygen, the brain wakes the sleeper, breathing resumes, and the individual falls back to sleep until the next obstruction occurs.
These obstructions increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and eventually blunt the body's automatic response system, resulting in increasingly severe apnoeas and hypopnoea.
Continued disturbance to sleep diminishes the quality of sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation.
The number of Apnoeas and Hypopnoeas experienced determine the severity of the disorder (Apnoea Hypopnoea Index - AHI).