Whilst I have never been officially diagnosed with Sleep Apnoea, I think that I may well suffer from it. From a very early age I was always a restless sleeper – tossing and turning each night, talking in my sleep and grinding my teeth. This has slowly crept into adulthood and has never changed; my sleep patterns are still identical to those of when I was a small child.
Recently my partner has been telling me that sometimes it is almost unbearable, to the point that he has even resorted to sleeping on the couch some nights because I have been tossing and turning and throwing my arms and legs around the bed so much! Whilst I know it is not funny, I cannot help but laugh when he tells me these tales each morning because I just cannot imagine that I can behave like that in my sleep. This got me looking into Sleep Apnoea a little more.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing.
There are two types of breathing interruption characteristic of OSA:
- Apnoea – where the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse sufficiently to cause a total blockage of the airway; it is called an apnoea when the airflow is blocked for 10 seconds or more
- Hypopnoea – a partial blockage of the airway that results in an airflow reduction of greater than 50% for 10 seconds or more
This would explain my snoring and talking in my sleep then! If I am honest, it scares me a little and I think that it scares my partner too. On many occasions, I have woken in the middle of the night to him standing over me, shaking me to wake up because I have in fact been lay there motionless in my sleep, appearing not to breathe. That really is a scary thought!
According to the NHS, people with OSA may experience repeated episodes of apnoea and hypopnoea throughout the night.
During an episode, the lack of oxygen triggers your brain to pull you out of deep sleep – either to a lighter sleep or to wakefulness – so your airway reopens and you can breathe normally.
After falling back into deep sleep, further episodes of apnoea and hypopnoea can occur. These events may occur around once every one or two minutes throughout the night in severe cases.
Most people with OSA snore loudly. Their breathing may be noisy and laboured, and it is often interrupted by gasping and snorting with each episode of apnoea.
These repeated sleep interruptions can make you feel very tired during the day. You'll usually have no memory of your interrupted breathing, so you may be unaware you have a problem unless a partner, friend or family member notices the symptoms while you sleep.
The above describes my sleeping pattern perfectly. I always feel tired during the day no matter how early I go to bed or no matter how much sleep I think I have had. Things are slowly starting to piece together. Whilst this is a self-diagnosis of the condition, I feel a little more relieved after doing some research that it is a common problem.
Whilst sleeping, apparently it is normal for the muscles and soft tissues in the throat to relax and collapse to some degree.
For most people this doesn't cause breathing problems, but in people with OSA the airway has narrowed as the result of a number of factors, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a large neck
- Taking medicines that have a sedative effect, such as sleeping tablets
- Having an unusual structure in the neck, such as an narrow airway, large tonsils, adenoids or tongue, or a small lower jaw
- Smoking or drinking alcohol, particularly before going to sleep
All of the above relate to me. I am overweight and I am very conscious that I need to shift it. Some of the medication that I take does have a sedative effect as I suffer with back problems. I am also suffering at the moment with recurrent septic tonsillitis and I do smoke around ten cigarettes a day.
After looking into OSA I am more aware than ever that I need to be making some serious lifestyle changes such as losing excess weight and cutting down or quitting cigarettes for good. However, I do also think that recurrent tonsillitis may be one of the issues also. I am seeing a specialist at the hospital later this week, where I am hoping they will offer a tonsillectomy and that may improve symptoms. I shall keep you all posted and let you know how it goes! Here’s hoping that both my partner and I can have a good night’s sleep in the not too distant future. Failing that I may well be checking myself into a sleep clinic, or joining a dating website! (Just kidding!)