Navigating the Night: Understanding Sleep Apnoea and Obstructive Sleep Breathing Disorders
Sleep is a basic human need, but for many, it becomes a night struggle because of various sleep disorders. One of the common sleep disorder that the Australian population face is sleep apnoea and obstructive sleep breathing disorder. This disorder impacts physical health and disrupts sleeping patterns and quality of life. In Australia, awareness and diagnosis of such issues are at their peak, and that’s why understanding sleep apnoea is more crucial than before. This blog delves into the details of sleep apnoea and its disruptive counterpart, offering insights into their nature, causes, symptoms, and diagnosis.
What is Sleep Apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is a common yet serious sleep disorder where individuals experience breathing pauses or shallow breaths during sleep. These are frequent interruptions that lead to fragmented and poor-quality sleep.
Sleep apnoea is of three types discussed below:
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) usually occurs during sleep when the throat muscles relax excessively and cause airway blockage.
Central sleep apnoea is less common and involves a brain’s signal failure that controls breathing.
Complex sleep apnoea is a combination of both obstructive and central types.
In Australia, nearly 8-15% of the Australian population faces sleep apnoea. Studies show that sleep apnoea affects the adult population and is more common in men than women.
Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea arises from a physical obstruction of the upper airway. Several factors contribute to this obstruction:
Anatomy: Individuals with certain anatomical characteristics, such as a narrow airway, enlarged tonsils, or a large tongue, are more prone to OSA. Additionally, a deviated septum or nasal congestion can contribute to the risk.
Obesity: Excess body weight, particularly around the neck, can compress and narrow the airway, increasing the likelihood of obstructions during sleep.
Age and Gender: Sleep apnoea is more common in older adults and males, although the risk in females increases after menopause.
Family History and Genetics: A family history of sleep apnoea or certain genetic predispositions can increase risk.
Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle are also associated with an increased risk of developing sleep apnoea.
According to The Australian Sleep Health Foundation, it is important to understand risk factors as early intervention. It can noticeably reduce the severity of sleep apnoea.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of sleep apnoea often go unnoticed as they occur during sleep. The most common symptoms include:
Loud Snoring: Often the most noticeable sign, particularly in OSA.
Episodes of Breathing Pauses: Usually reported by a partner.
Gasping or Choking During Sleep: As the person struggles to breathe.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: Due to disturbed sleep patterns.
Morning Headaches: Caused by low oxygen levels and poor sleep quality.
Irritability and Mood Swings: Due to lack of restorative sleep.
Sleep study, or polysomnography, is used to diagnose sleep-related issues. Researchers study blood oxygen levels, brain waves, breathing, and heart rate during sleep. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians states that these studies are essential to diagnose sleep apnoea, differentiating it from other sleep disorders and, more importantly, determining its intensity.
Health Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnoea
Untreated sleep apnoea poses significant health risks. In the short term, it can lead to poor concentration, increased risk of accidents, and reduced quality of life. Long-term consequences are more severe:
Cardiovascular Problems: OSA is linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and irregular heartbeats.
Metabolic Syndrome: Including type 2 diabetes due to insulin resistance caused by chronic sleep disruption and intermittent oxygen deprivation.
Mental Health Problems: Exacerbated chronic sleep deprivation, such as anxiety and depression.
Untreated sleep apnoea is a public health concern due to its association with these chronic conditions (A statement by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnoea
Improving sleep quality and overall health is critical for effective management. Treatment options depend on the condition’s intensity and the individual’s specific conditions.
Lifestyle Changes: Australian health professionals often recommend lifestyle changes as the initial treatment for mild cases of sleep apnoea. These include weight loss, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, quitting smoking, and altering sleep positions to improve breathing.
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure): The most common and effective treatment for slight to intense OSA is using a CPAP machine. This device provides positive air pressure via a mask during sleep to keep the airway open. The Australian Sleep Association reports the high effectiveness of CPAP in reducing apnoea episodes and improving sleep quality.
Oral Appliances: Dental devices, also known as mandibular advancement splints, are an alternative for those who cannot tolerate CPAP. These appliances, fitted by dental professionals, readjust the tongue and jaw to keep the airway open. Australian guidelines recommend these for mild to moderate OSA and in cases where CPAP is unsuitable.
Surgery: In some cases, surgical interventions may be recommended, especially when a physical obstruction like enlarged tonsils or a deviated nasal septum is present. Procedures can range from tonsillectomies to more complex surgeries like uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) or maxillomandibular advancement.
Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP): For patients who find it difficult to use CPAP, BiPAP machines, which offer variable air pressure for inhaling and exhaling, can be an alternative. They are particularly useful in treating central sleep apnoea.
The treatment choice is highly individual and should be made in consultation with healthcare professionals, including sleep specialists and dentists with expertise in sleep-related breathing disorders.
Living with Sleep Apnoea
Living with sleep apnoea requires ongoing management to ensure effective treatment and maintenance of overall health. Here are some strategies:
Adherence to Treatment: Whether using CPAP, oral appliances, or lifestyle modifications, adherence to the prescribed treatment plan is essential for effective management.
Regular Check-ups: Routine visits to healthcare providers, including sleep specialists and dentists, are important for monitoring the condition and adjusting treatment as needed.
Healthy Lifestyle: Incorporating a healthy diet and regular exercise can greatly help manage sleep apnoea, particularly in cases linked to obesity.
Sleep Hygiene: Maintaining good sleep habits, such as a consistent sleep schedule, a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime, can significantly improve sleep quality.
Prevention and Awareness
Preventing sleep apnoea, particularly the obstructive type, involves addressing its risk factors:
Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can minimise the chances of sleep apnoea.
Avoiding Alcohol and Sedatives: These substances can relax the throat muscles, increasing the risk of airway obstruction.
Smoking Cessation: Smoking increases the risk of sleep apnoea and its severity.
Regular Exercise: Physical activity can lessen the risk of sleep apnoea and improve sleep quality.
Spreading sleep apnoea awareness is also necessary. Australian health campaigns focus on educating the public regarding the risks and symptoms of sleep apnoea and the importance of medical advice.
In Australia, sleep apnoea, especially obstructive sleep breathing disorder, is a major health problem and lead to even more serious problem when left untreated. Understanding the conditions, signs, and treatment options is important to help affected individuals. Consult your healthcare provider for a healthy lifestyle and treatment plans for effective management. Proper management helps sleep-apnoea-affected individuals live a healthy life.
For those seeking dental solutions for sleep apnoea, such as oral appliances, “Arete Dental Studio” offers specialised services catering to patients with sleep-related breathing disorders. Their expertise in this area can be an invaluable resource for those exploring alternative treatments to CPAP.
Do not let sleep apnoea struggle silently. With timely diagnosis, effective treatment, and awareness, individuals can discover the solution and enjoy healthy and peaceful sleep.