Managing and Recognizing Sleep Apnoea

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Sleep apnoea pertains to a common sleeping disorder wherein an individual’s breathing is interrupted during sleep by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths.

Sleep apnoea is a common sleeping disorder wherein an individual’s breathing is interrupted during sleep by one or several breathing pauses or shallow breaths. These pauses in breathing may vary in length from a few seconds to a few minutes and may occur 30 times or more per hour. It occurs in a cycle where normal breathing starts then is interrupted sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound, then would return to normal breathing. The sleep interruption leads to poor sleep quality.

This chronic condition may become a potentially serious problem as most cases remain undiagnosed. A family member is usually the first individual to notice the symptoms of sleep apnoea, which will be discussed later. If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to several complications including, increased risks of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. Moreover, it can also increase risks or exacerbate heart failure, while also making arrhythmias more common in an individual. Lastly, prolonged sleep apnoea may lead to ceasing to breathe and eventually, respiratory arrest.

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Types of Sleep Apnoea

There are two main types of sleep apnoea, namely, obstructive sleep apnoea and central sleep apnoea, where the main difference is in what is causing the symptoms:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
    • More common type
    • Occurs due to collapsing or blockage of airway, thus air that squeezes through the blockage resulting to loud snoring
    • Central Sleep Apnoea
      • Occurs when the part of the brain in charge of breathing does not send proper signals to the breathing muscles resulting to no breathing for transitory moments

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnoea

Although having or being exposed to these factors does not necessarily signify that an individual will have sleep apnoea, it can significantly increase chances of developing this condition. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Thicker neck circumference
  • Narrowed airway
  • Certain medications, sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Certain heart disorders
  • Stroke or brain tumour
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Gender: males are more like
  • Age greater than 60
  • Family history
  • Race: dark-skinned individuals are more prone

Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea

The type of sleep apnoea may sometimes be difficult to determine as symptoms are similar for both. The most common symptoms of sleep apnoea are the following:

  • Loud snoring
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Cessation of breathing during sleep, usually witnessed by another person
  • Sudden waking in the middle of the night supplemented by dyspnea
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (due to poor sleep quality)
  • Difficult staying asleep
  • Morning headache
  • Dry mouth and sore throat
  • Attention problems

Treatment for Sleep Apnoea

Mild cases of sleep apnoea can be managed at home with several recommended lifestyle changes. Treatments, including several therapies and surgeries, are also available for more severe cases. Treatment for sleep apnoea typically includes:

  • Diet and exercise to lose weight
  • Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid medications that may cause sleep apnoea.
  • The sleeping position recommended is on the side or the abdomen.

Disclaimer: This article should not be used for medical diagnosis or advice. Seek medical attention when necessary. Understanding sleep apnoea can help when taking first aid courses. Prolonged sleep apnoea may lead to ceasing to breathe, which can lead to respiratory arrest. Knowing how to give CPR can help greatly in cases complications from sleep apnoea may arise.


Sleep apnea. (2012). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on October 9, 2013, from

What is Sleep Apnea? (2012). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved on October 9, 2013 from

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