The 3rd of January marks The Festival of Sleep Day, a holiday which encourages us to enjoy a little relaxation and shut-eye after the hectic festive season. It’s a day for recovery, but if you are someone who has difficulty sleeping throughout the year, it’s also a day to learn about the potential causes for your sleeping difficulties.
If you often find that you wake up feeling unrested even after a full night’s sleep, it’s possible you could be living with sleep apnoea. This is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which the sufferer’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. Daytime activities can suffer as a result, as this poor sleep may lead to trouble functioning. Loud snoring is another symptom of this condition.
Sleep apnoea differs from insomnia in that the sufferer does generally sleep through the night, although their struggle to breathe may leave them just as tired as someone who didn’t sleep at all. Insomnia, meanwhile, is characterised by the individual struggling to drift off or remain asleep.
Symptoms of Insomnia
Daily function can be difficult for many people with insomnia, and the condition can also interfere with personal relationships and job performance. Complex thinking does not appear to be affected, however, and people with and without insomnia seem to have similar abilities in tests of general cognitive function, perception, verbal ability and attention. People with insomnia might experience any or all of the following symptoms…
- Not being able to get back to sleep if you’ve woken up too early
- Feeling sleepy or tired during the day
- Poor memory, or difficulty paying attention or focusing on tasks
- Changing sleeping patterns, like sleeping well one night and poorly the next
In the UK and the US, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. Because the concept of “sufficient sleep” tends to vary from one person to the next, insomnia cannot be defined by the number of hours slept.
Insomnia can sometimes occur alongside other conditions like anxiety or nocturnal eating syndrome, a condition which is sometimes only detected when its sufferer realises food has been disappearing overnight. Confusion is a major component of this condition, on top of embarrassment and a difficulty or inability to remember eating the food.
Types of Sleep Apnoea
Sleep apnoea has three main types:
- Central sleep apnoea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Treatment-emergent central sleep apnoea (also known as complex sleep apnoea syndrome), a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea
- Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) caused by the temporary relaxation of the muscles that support the soft tissues in your throat, such as your tongue and soft palate
OSA is the most common type of sleep apnoea. The majority of sleep apnoea symptoms occur while you are asleep.
It’s worth contacting your doctor if you think you could have sleep apnoea. Treating this problem can help you avoid complications such as heart problems and will allow you to finally get a good night’s sleep.
Common night-time symptoms of sleep apnoea include:
- Making gasping, snorting or choking noises
- Broken sleep
- Loud snoring
- Breathing that stops and starts throughout the night
Daytime symptoms include…
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Difficulty regulating mood
- Having a headache when you wake up
- Feeling sleep deprived
If you want to check for the symptoms of sleep apnoea, it may help to ask someone to stay with you overnight. Knowing for sure if you have sleep apnoea can be very difficult without a formal diagnosis.
Causes of Central Sleep Apnoea
When your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles, this leads to a less common condition known as central sleep apnoea. The result is that, for a short period, your body makes no attempt at breathing. You may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, and might wake up with shortness of breath.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
The relaxation of the muscles in the back of the throat is the cause of OSA. The tongue, soft palate, uvula (the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate), the tonsils and the side walls of the throat all rely on these muscles.
As you breathe in, the relaxation of these muscles causes your airway to narrow or close. The oxygen level in your blood may become lowered as you are unable to get enough air. In order to reopen your airway, your brain will rouse you from sleep. You won’t generally remember this awakening as it will be very brief.
Gasping, snorting and choking are also common results of this process. Many people with sleep apnoea will find they are unable to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep as the pattern of muscle relaxation and awakening can repeat itself anywhere between five and 30 times per hour, all night long.
Sleep Apnoea Testing
Your GP may refer you to a specialist sleep clinic for tests if they think you might have sleep apnoea. The clinic may give you devices to wear while you sleep that will check things like your breathing and heartbeat. You may be asked to stay in the clinic overnight, but in most cases the devices will be taken home and used there. This test will show you if you have sleep apnoea and, if so, how severe the condition is. The severity will be calculated based on your AHI score – how often your breathing stops when you are asleep.
If your condition is mild, your sleep apnoea will not necessarily require treatment.
If you want to learn more about sleep disorders and abnormalities, you might enjoy The Essential Guide to Insomnia from Need2Know Books, which covers the sleep process and the symptoms of insomnia, allowing the reader to identify the key causes to their condition. Whether you suffer from insomnia, sleep related eating disorder or another sleep disorder, you deserve to sleep soundly, and we want to help you achieve that!