Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, or OSA, is a condition caused by the obstruction of the airway during sleep. This obstruction causes a sudden break from your sleep cycle and signals the brain that oxygen is required immediately, causing a gasp for air.

In a healthy sleep cycle, we undergo two main phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid-eye-movement). These phases are necessary to ensure proper rest has been achieved. In those suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea, the muscles in the throat and neck relax during deep sleep and leads to the obstruction of the airway. As the lungs are no longer receiving oxygen, the levels of carbon dioxide increase and the body attempts to breathe any way that it can, resulting in an abrupt arousal from sleep. These arousals are known as ‘episodes’ and can occur between 5 (moderate) and up to 50 or more (severe) times a night. This constant barrage of gasps for air break the natural sleeping rhythm, leading to an extremely poor nights rest.

Symptoms

Often it is difficult to self-diagnose OSA simply because the short term symptoms can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors (for example, daytime tiredness can be related to staying up late or alcohol consumption).
The most common symptoms associated with OSA are:

  • Loud and regular snoring
  • Waking or gasping for air during sleep (often noticed by a partner)
  • Constant daytime tiredness
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Snoring and Sleep Apnoea

Usually, snoring is nothing more than a pet peeve for partners, likening it to the sounds of a chainsaw that keeps them awake all night. Snoring is mostly harmless and is simply the result of the soft palate vibrating against the throat during sleep. It is this vibration that causes the iconic snoring sound.

On the other hand, regular and loud snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea due to the nature of its sound. It is the same muscles in the throat and neck that relax, causing a block in the airway that can also cause snoring.

If your partner has mentioned that you are a very loud snorer, it is often a good choice to visit your GP to discuss treatments. If it is OSA, then it’s better to catch it early. If it’s not OSA, then you’ve helped your partner sleep better at night.

Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnoea

OSA can go undiagnosed for some time due to the symptoms being associate with lifestyle or environmental factors. A poor night’s sleep can definitely be the result of simply staying up late or stress. However, short term problems related to OSA include consistent daytime tiredness, often to the point of needing a daytime nap to continue focussing.

It’s not just the short term inconvenience of sleepiness – untreated OSA can lead to more serious, longer terms problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), which in turn is a precursor to many forms of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and chronic chest pain.
OSA itself is closely linked to obesity and untreated OSA has been shown to increase blood sugar levels during apnoea episodes. It is possible that type 2 diabetes can develop if OSA is left untreated.

Diagnosis of OSA

Obstructive sleep apnoea can only be diagnosed after undergoing what is known as a sleep study, or polysomnography.

In a sleep study, your body will be hooked up to a system of monitors and analysis tools that keep track of your oxygen levels, airflow, movement of the chest and abdomen, heart activity, brain, muscles and eyes. Based on analysis of these systems, the results will be used to form a diagnosis of OSA.

There are two ways in which sleep studies are conducted: internal at a sleep study clinic or using a take home study kit. The internal clinic test requires you to sleep overnight at a sleep centre where a trained professional will monitor you through the night. A take home test will mean bringing home all the systems, wires and machinery needed to conduct the test throughout the night. This will then need to be taken back to the clinic for analysis the next morning.

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea and been recommended to visit a dentist for treatment, please contact us today on (03) 9354 7111.

If you think you may be experiencing OSA, or even just want help snoring less at  night, speak with our friendly dental team and find out how we can help. You can also learn more about OSA at www.soundsleeper.com.au