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.

Cost indicator

Discover the typical out-of-pocket costs HCF members can expect to pay for a sleep study in a hospital or sleep laboratory, and learn how your choice of doctor affects that cost.

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Learn about sleep apnoea

This short animation shows how obstructive sleep apnoea works, explains why it may happen and looks at preventative measures and treatments.

The basics

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, and/or blocked nose, such as from 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 heartbeats), high blood pressure and aggravate other medical conditions including depression. Having untreated sleep apnoea more than doubles your risk of motor vehicle accidents and general mortality (risk of dying).

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.

Where is the obstruction?

In children, it’s typically from large adenoids and tonsils but occasionally a blocked nose also contributes.

In adults, it’s more complex and occurs typically at 5 different levels as follows:

  1. Blocked nose
  2. Collapse of the upper throat (oropharynx) linked to weight
  3. Soft palate
  4. Tonsils
  5. Tongue base

Patients may obstruct at one, several or all of these sites.

The details


Choosing a specialist

How to find a sleep specialist who can diagnose your condition.
Learn more

Questions for your doctor

What you should ask before having a sleep study.
Learn more


Lifestyle changes you can try

Simple steps that may help improve your sleep apnoea symptoms.
Learn more


Preparing for a sleep study

How to get ready for your sleep study.
Learn more

Having a sleep study

What to expect on the night of the study.
Learn more


Treatment options

What’s right for you may depend on the severity and type of sleep apnoea you have.
Learn more

Patient experiences

People who’ve had a sleep study talk about their experiences with different treatments.

View videos

Managing sleep disorders

People living with sleep apnoea and insomnia offer practical advice on coping with the symptoms and maintaining a positive mindset.

View videos

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Important information

Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.