Sleep apnoea is a disease that mostly affects overweight men. But it can also affect women or, rarely, even children.
Physiologically, the throat muscles relax during sleep so that the airways can narrow. The uvula and the soft palate also become slack. This causes the typical snoring sounds. In a normal state, however, this does not lead to longer pauses in breathing.
This is different with sleep apnoea. Here, sometimes long pauses in breathing occur between snorers.
Those affected do not wake up refreshed in the morning and suffer from significant daytime sleepiness, also with the risk of microsleep, which is a great danger in road traffic or when operating machinery at work. The person next to them in bed often notices the longer pauses in breathing between snoring and not infrequently wakes up worried.
There are different forms of sleep apnoea. Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) is the most common form.
During sleep, the muscles slacken and when breathing in, a negative pressure is created which causes the trachea to collapse, i.e. its walls are sucked together. This causes shortness of breath.
The respiratory arrest causes the oxygen level in the blood to drop, as the supply is temporarily interrupted. This undersupply of oxygen produces a protective waking reaction, and the blood pressure rises. The sleeper usually wakes up briefly as a result. This can happen many times a night. Often, patients cannot remember in the morning that they woke up several times during the night and wonder about the poor quality of sleep.
Another form of sleep apnoea is central sleep apnoea. Here, disturbances occur in the brain. The airways are free, there is no collapse, but the central regulation of the breathing mechanics is disturbed. This leads to a dysfunction of the respiratory muscles of the chest and diaphragm. Here, too, a lack of oxygen occurs with subsequent compensation of the body through deepened and faster breathing. This form often affects older people, often after a stroke.
The consequences of sleep apnoea are a persistent sleep deficit with daytime tiredness, forgetfulness, lack of concentration. Depression and anxiety can also occur. There is often increased high blood pressure, which is often refractory to treatment, and headaches. Men may also experience erectile dysfunction.
Talk to us if you feel that these symptoms apply to you, or if your partner reports that you have interrupted breathing at night and snore.
There are special tests that can diagnose sleep apnoea. Special home devices that measure your breathing at night can often be used to make a diagnosis. Treatment is either with breathing devices that are specially adapted to you or with special jaw splints.
If the therapy is well adjusted, many sufferers report a significant improvement in their quality of life and sleep. In addition, good treatment has a positive effect on blood pressure and daytime vitality.