Using this guide What's covered
Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about sleep apnoea. Learn about the condition, how a sleep study works and what it may cost, what treatments are available, and more.
To see how sleep apnoea can stop you getting a good night’s sleep, view our animation below.
For personal insights, see our patient experience videos in which HCF members talk frankly about their diagnosis and treatment.
What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is a disorder that affects your breathing while you sleep, causing you to stop breathing for short periods of time.
An apnoea is the time when your breathing stops. Depending on the severity, it can last anywhere from 10-90 seconds. Once your brain registers the lack of oxygen, it sends a message to your body briefly rousing you enough so you start breathing again. This can happen many times during the night without you being aware of it.
The severity of your sleep apnoea is based on how often your breathing stops for more than 10 seconds at a time, known as the apnoea-hypopnoea index (AHI):
- Mild – 5-15 interruptions per hour
- Moderate – 15-30 interruptions per hour
- Severe – over 30 interruptions per hour
Types of sleep apnoea
There are three kinds of sleep apnoea:
- Obstructive – this is the most common, affecting over 85% of people who have the condition. It happens when the muscles in the back of your throat and the tongue relax, causing an obstruction that blocks your airway. Other contributory factors may include being overweight, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, or a deviated nasal septum.
- Central – this is a less common condition caused by the brain failing to send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Mixed – a mixture of both obstructive and central sleep apnoea. Left untreated, the strain that sleep apnoea places on your body can cause long-term health problems, including heart failure, stroke and arrhythmias (irregular heart beats). Having untreated sleep apnoea more than doubles your risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Signs you might have sleep apnoea
Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea include loud snoring, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, irritability, depression, night sweats, weight gain, lack of energy, forgetfulness, sexual dysfunction and frequent urination at night. These symptoms can also be signs of other conditions so talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Am I at risk?
Sleep apnoea most commonly affects overweight middle-aged men who snore, but post-menopausal women and children can be affected too. Not everyone with sleep apnoea snores or is overweight.
Having a small, receding chin or a facial deformity can be risk factors. So can diabetes, an underactive thyroid, and large tonsils or adenoids.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and taking sleeping tablets can also increase your risk.
If you think you’re at risk of sleep apnoea, ask your GP who may refer you to a sleep physician for an assessment.
A sleep study can confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders such as restless legs, narcolepsy and insomnia.
Lifestyle changes you can try
Simple steps that may help improve your sleep apnoea symptoms.
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