If you snore loudly and often feel exhausted during the day, it could be a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnoea.
See also: How to combat insomnia as you get older
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Left undiagnosed, the condition can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, and is also linked with an increased risk of accidents at work and on the road due to excessive daytime tiredness. Here's what you need to know...
What causes it?
Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when the tissues of the throat relax and block your airway causing you temporarily to stop breathing. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers you to wake up, often with a loud snort or gasp, before falling asleep again. This can happen hundreds of times during a single night without the sufferer realising.
Who gets it?
Sleep apnoea can affect people of all ages, but overweight men aged between 60 and 65 are most at risk. Because it can be hard to identify, as many as one-in-three sufferers may not be aware that they have a problem.
As well as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness, other symptoms include irritability, dry mouth and morning headache, mood swings, anxiety or depression and low libido.
See your GP
If you're concerned that you or your partner may have obstructive sleep apnoea, see your GP who can give you a home-recording kit or refer you to a sleep clinic for assessment.
Home recorders, which are worn overnight in bed, register your blood oxygen level (some also measure snoring, heart rate and breathing efforts), using sensors on the finger and around the body.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnoea, your doctor may prescribe a continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) machine (available free on the NHS) and suggest that you make lifestyle changes if you are overweight or obese.
CPAP machines deliver a continuous supply of compressed air through a mask which you wear over your nose and mouth. The machine regulates the pressure of the air breathed in – which prevents your airways from collapsing during sleep.
As well as improving your sleep quality – so you wake up feeling refreshed and have more energy in the day – they suppress snoring, allowing your partner to sleep better too.
If you find the CPAP uncomfortable to wear, it may help to invest in a special pillow – such as the CPAP Sleep Apnea Memory Foam Pillow £64.15 from Amazon. This may help to reduce mask pressure and prevent it from shifting during the night.