Sleep apnoea is not only a serious disorder which stops your breathing every few seconds during sleep, it is also associated with medical conditions such as high blood pressure and arrhythmia, and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure. So, without seeking medical advice and taking action to treat it, sleep apnoea can, in the long-term, be life-threatening.
It’s estimated that Sleep apnoea affects between three and six per cent of the world’s adult population, and as many as 100 million people in Europe and the US alone. This number is also growing.
The number of tests carried out by NHS England to diagnose people with sleep apnoea has doubled in the past decade. NHS Digital data also shows that the number of hospital admissions of children and teenagers with a primary diagnosis of sleep apnoea has shot up over the past four years.
The rise of sleep apnoea is due, in part, to increased awareness, which is prompting those with a suspected sleep disorder to seek diagnosis, according to doctors and charities. An increase of obesity is also thought to be contributing to the rise in sleep apnoea amongst young people.
There is good news though. As the syndrome becomes more widely-known, and understood, more and more solutions will arise.
And, there are already a number of ways to tackle it:
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, your doctor will surely have told you the cause. If you haven’t yet been diagnosed, please see your doctor as soon as possible – the problem may be able to be fixed through surgery.
A deviated septum – an uneven divide between your nasal cavities – or having excess tissue on the back of your nose or throat can block your airways and cause sleep apnoea, for instance.
Similar problems can be caused by the size of tonsils and glands which can also be removed to cure or diminish sleep apnoea.
However, surgery should be a last resort when no other alternatives have worked.
2. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Devices
CPAP devices apply constant pressure on your airways, keeping them open and helping you to breathe during sleep. CPAPs are the most popular of assistive breathing devices and are essential for most sleep apnoea patients.
Using a CPAP device really helped to transform my life, allowing me to finally get a decent night’s sleep. I did, however, find a few downsides.
CPAPs are bulky, noisy, tabletop devices that require a plug connection and come with a long tube, making them unsuitable for travelling. In short, they’re pretty outdated for the modern world.
3. Other Assistive Breathing Devices
Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) devices are a lot more discreet than traditional CPAP devices. These single-use, disposable devices attach to your nostrils to keep your airways open but are ineffective for even moderate cases of sleep apnoea.
Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) devices are like CPAPs, but more suited for people who need high pressure to support their breathing. BiPAPs have two pressure settings: both for inhaling and exhaling.
Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) devices are a bit more intuitive – they record data on your normal breathing patterns, using an algorithm to regulate your breathing during sleep.
4. Other Devices
Wearing a mandibular advancement/repositioning device – essentially a gum shield – during sleep will hold your jaw and tongue forward, increasing the space at the back of your throat and allow for better breathing. A similar result can be achieved with tongue retainer, but such devices are not effective treatments for moderate-to-severe cases of sleep apnoea.
Also, wearing these devices can be sore and uncomfortable and, in the long-term, can permanently shift the position of your jaw.
In the US, a pacemaker system that stimulates muscles to keep airways open during sleep has been developed. This could provide an interesting new solution to alleviating sleep apnoea, but it is suitable only for mild cases of sleep apnoea, and it will likely be some time before it is available in the UK.
Many factors can exacerbate sleep apnoea, including those associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. Even if changing your lifestyle doesn’t cure your sleep apnoea, it can certainly make it a lot more bearable.
It’s well known that smoking is bad for circulation and for breathing in general. Add the fact that nicotine is a stimulant and you can see why it doesn’t promote good sleep.
Alcohol is also known to disrupt sleeping patterns. And as it relaxes your muscles, drinking in the evening is not a great idea for those with sleep apnoea – sufferers already struggle with their throat muscles relaxing and obstructing breathing! The same is true of sleeping tablets and sedatives.
Also, obesity can exacerbate sleep apnoea. So, reaching a healthy weight can lead to remarkable improvements – the most obvious route to this is more exercise – yoga in particular – which promotes sleep, muscle flexibility and improved circulation.
Finally, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and bright screens and heavy meals in the evening will all help to improve sleep.
Jaume Palau is the creator of Airmony, a next generation sleep apnoea device. Portable, light and tubeless, Airmony pushes a continuous flow of air to help sleep apnoea patients breathe during sleep. It includes sensors for e-health tech, allowing patients and their doctors to monitor sleep patterns.