How much do you know about sleep apnoea?

There are many reasons why people suffer from sleep apnoea (SA), some that can be controlled, others that can’t. Whatever the cause, being informed will help you to manage your SA and, hopefully, to enjoy more of nature’s medicine: sleep! Continue reading to see what you can do to help manage your condition…


What is SA?

There are many types of SA, but the most common is obstructive SA (OSA), which occurs when the throat muscles and

tongue relax and collapse into the airway during sleep blocking airflow.[1] This causes a person to abruptly and repeatedly wake for a few seconds at a time.[2] It is estimated that up to 13% of adult men and 6% of adult women in the UK suffer from OSA; approximately 3.9 million people. However, only around 700,000 are currently diagnosed in the UK.[3]


Who gets SA?  

Some people are unfortunate in that the shape of their nose, airways, throat, neck or jaw makes them prone to the condition.[4] Family history also plays a part as does being male and over 40 years old.4 However, often, lifestyle has a big impact. For example, being overweight can make SA worse, as can drinking too much alcohol or smoking. Certain health conditions, such as obesity, also put people at risk of developing SA.4 Risk factors are different for men and women.


Differences between men and women

SA is more common in men, and, because of this, it is often considered a ‘man’s disorder’. However, women have their own risk factors for developing SA, such as pregnancy,[5] polycystic ovary syndrome[6] and menopause[7]. Furthermore, because the symptoms of SA are less obvious in women, they are eight times less likely to be diagnosed than men.[8]


How do you treat SA?

The most effective way to treat moderate to severe OSA is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).[9] CPAP works by continuously blowing an even amount of air through a person’s airway to prevent it from collapsing, reducing the number of awakenings. It can take a little while to get used to wearing a CPAP mask but, once people adjust, the therapy has been shown to significantly improve symptoms and reduce the risks associated with the condition.[10]


Can’t I just change my lifestyle?

Mild cases of SA can sometimes be treated with lifestyle changes alone but moderate to severe case usually require CPAP therapy. However, changes in daily habits and activities can help reduce the severity of the condition and improve the effectiveness of using a CPAP machine.


What are the risks of untreated SA?

SA is often linked to high blood pressure and can lead to the development of other serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.[11],[12] The gaps in breathing that happen in people with SA cause blood pressure to rise as the body struggles to maintain a constant flow of oxygen.[13]   

The good news is evidence shows that treating SA effectively can help to lower blood pressure.13 CPAP therapy has also been found to be beneficial in treating people who have had a stroke.12

Unsurprisingly, people with SA and sleep deprivation in general are also more likely to suffer from depression[14] – another reason to make sure you aren’t ignoring your problem. The condition can have a hugely detrimental impact on quality of life, limiting people’s performance at work or school, and can make driving unsafe. Research has shown someone who is sleep deprived because of OSA may be up to 12 times more likely to be involved in a car accident.11


Anything else I should know?

While CPAP therapy is the ‘gold standard’ for treating SA[15] there are things to bear in mind before putting on your mask at night. The most important being cleanliness.

Insufficient cleaning of CPAP masks and tubing may leave you more exposed to respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.[16] In less serious terms, moulds and bacteria living inside the equipment have the potential to irritate sinuses and airways, which is not a recipe for sound sleep!

A crucial part of managing your SA is regular cleaning and disinfection of your CPAP machine – at a minimum weekly, but ideally daily using an automated disinfecting device like the SoClean machine.  

For more information on sleep apnoea, CPAP use and cleaning, please visit:



[1] NHS. OSA. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[2] WebMD. Sleep Apnea. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[4] NHS. OSA: causes. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[5] Izci Balserak B. Sleep disordered breathing in pregnancy. Breathe (Sheff). 2015;11(4):268-77.

[6] Helvaci N, Karabulut E, Demir AU, Yildiz BO. Polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea: a meta-analysis and review of the literature. Endocr Connect. 2017;6(7):437-445.

[7] Dursunoğlu N. Effects of menopause on obstructive sleep apnea. Tuberk Toraks. 2009;57(1):109-14.

[8] Alaska Sleep Clinic. Women with Sleep Apnea: Why Women are Less Often Diagnosed with OSA. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[9] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep Apnoea - Overview & Facts. Available from:

[10] Donovan LM, Boeder S, Malhotra A, Patel SR. New developments in the use of positive airway pressure for obstructive sleep apnea. J Thorac Dis. 2015;7(8):1323-42.

[11] NHS. Complications of OSA. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[12] Davis AP, Billings ME, Longstreth WT, Khot SP. Early diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea after stroke: Are we neglecting a modifiable stroke risk factor?. Neurol Clin Pract. 2013;3(3):192-201.

[13] American College of Cardiology.  Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure: A Dangerous Pair. Available from: (accessed Dec 2018)

[14]American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep Apnoea - Overview & Facts. Available from:

[15] Michelle T. Cao, Joshua M. Sternbach & C. Guilleminault (2017) Continuous positive airway pressure therapy in obstuctive sleep apnea: benefits and alternatives, Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, 11:4, 259-272, DOI: 10.1080/17476348.2017.1305893

[16] Advance Healthcare Network. CPAP Therapy Means Higher Pneumonia Risk. 2014. Available from: (Accessed Dec 2018)