A man sleeps soundly whilst using his CPAP machine

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnoea you will be offered treatment such as CPAP therapy.

When breathing stops completely, it is called an apnoea. Sometimes, you continue to breathe but the airflow through your airways is substantially reduced, leading to a period of shallow breathing. This is known as a hypopnoea.

If you have sleep apnoea you will often experience symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness and restless sleep. You also stand a higher chance of snoring.

All treatments for sleep apnoea aim to eliminate most apnoeas, reduce daytime sleepiness and give you a refreshing night’s sleep.

It is vitally important to seek treatment as long-term, untreated sleep apnoea can lead to serious health problems.

What you need to know

Sleep apnoea affects a large number of people although most do not realise they have the condition. It is prevalent in both men and woman and across all age groups.

sleep apnoea prevalence women by age group - under 45 is less than 1%, 45-65 is 2%, over 65 is 7%
sleep apnoea prevalence men by age group - under 45 is 3%, 45-65 is 11%, over 65 is 18%

There are different types of sleep apnoea

There are three main types of sleep apnoea, each with a different cause:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

    Obstructive Sleep Apnoea occurs when your airways close off, blocking the passage of air to your lungs. It is called ‘obstructive’ because the closed airway acts as a physical ‘obstruction’.

    In response to the obstruction, your body makes increasingly forceful efforts to breathe before arousing with a big grunt, snort or gasp when the airways finally reopen.

    Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea »

  2. Central Sleep Apnoea

    Central Sleep Apnoea occurs when there is either no signal from the brain to breathe, the signal is not transmitted due to nerve damage, or the muscles of the lungs cannot work properly. Either way, the muscles of the lungs fail to move and inflate them.

    The end of each central apnoea results in an arousal, so that your brain can kick-start your lung muscles to work again.

    Causes of Central Sleep Apnoea »

  3. Mixed Sleep Apnoea

    A mixed apnoea is part central and part obstructive – it is a ‘mixture’ of both types.

    It starts as a central apnoea, where the muscles of your lungs fail to move and inflate them. This can lead to relaxation of your airway muscles. If you already have narrow airways they may close completely, resulting in an obstructive apnoea.

    What starts as a central apnoea ends in an obstructive one.

    Causes of Mixed Sleep Apnoea »

Finding out if you are at risk

If you think you have sleep apnoea it is important to speak to your doctor for further advice. They can refer you to a sleep clinic for further testing. You can also try our symptoms checker to see if you are at risk.

Arousals and awakenings

Apnoeas and hypopnoeas end with an arousal. An arousal happens when you either wake up completely or change from deep sleep to light sleep. Your body does this instinctively to kick-start your breathing response, but unfortunately it also disturbs your sleep.

One or two apnoeas or hypopnoeas per hour of sleep are normal. Problems arise when they occur repeatedly throughout the night, with a frequency of five or more per hour.

Frequent apnoeas prevent the brain from progressing through the usual sleep cycles, so sleep becomes fragmented. This can lead to daytime sleepiness, the hallmark of sleep apnoea syndrome.

It is a scary fact that as arousals do not always wake you completely, you may have no idea that sleep apnoea is the reason for your excessive daytime sleepiness.

The dangers of driving with sleep apnoea

Your risk of having a car crash with sleep apnoea is 19%

You are at least twice as likely to have a car accident if you have sleep apnoea.

A man falls asleep at the wheel of his car and crashes

Sleep apnoea causes excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue. It also reduces your coordination, concentration, attention span and reaction time.

Approximately 20% of all motor vehicle crashes on motorways or highways are due to sleepiness whilst driving.

If you have sleep apnoea with daytime sleepiness you are almost two and a half times more likely than other people to have a motor vehicle collision.

Get the facts about driving »

Is there a cure for sleep apnoea?

Currently there are no pills you can take that cure sleep apnoea

There are currently no easy cures for sleep apnoea. While there are several long-term treatments to help relieve your symptoms, they do not get rid of your sleep apnoea completely.

Read the Q&A »

Current treatments for sleep apnoea

A man gets fitted with a cpap mask

All treatments for sleep apnoea aim to eliminate apnoeas, reduce daytime sleepiness and give you a refreshing night’s sleep. Most importantly, they are designed to increase your quality of life.

Read the guide »

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