What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

Current research estimates that 9-38% of the population have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)1. Being so common, I would imagine many readers either have OSA, or all know someone who does. It is a chronic condition (meaning long term) which can be present for many years before being diagnosed. OSA seems to be a hot topic on the news at the moment, with many articles speculating about what causes OSA, and the long-term effects of being untreated. This post is about what OSA is, and how you can figure out if you are at high risk.

You have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea if you have 5 or more respiratory events per hour during sleep as measured by a sleep study. This sleep study is either done overnight in a sleep lab, or at home after being set up with all of the equipment in the sleep clinic.  The respiratory events are caused by periodic narrowing and obstruction of the upper airway during sleep1. This can be in part or wholly due to anatomical impairments or deficiencies in respiratory control of breathing. It is believed that the biggest risk factor for OSA is obesity. Simply put, being obese can place enough pressure on the airway to cause it to collapse during the night.

As you can imagine, essentially stopping breathing multiple times per hour while asleep can have an impact on how you feel during the day. Common symptoms of sleep apnoea include excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, non-refreshing sleep, nocturia (needing to urinate multiple times during the night), morning headache, irritability, and memory loss2,3. Not a very enjoyable experience. Men and women can have completely different symptoms, with women more likely to report having insomnia and depression as compared to men who report snoring and sleepiness4. Many people get used to these symptoms or attribute them to other disorders or everyday stress.

If any of these symptoms seem applicable to you or someone you know, follow the link below to complete the questionnaires on my blog. If you score more than 11/24 on the Epworth Sleepiness Score or more than 4/8 in the STOPBANG questionnaire you are at an increased risk of having OSA. Go to see your GP, get a sleep study and do the necessary to improve your health. It may be the best thing you could do for yourself.

In my next blog post I will discuss the results of a sleep study report, and what exactly all of the confusing abbreviations and numbers mean.

Links to questionnaires:




1. Senaratna, C.V., Perret, J.L, Lodge, C.J., Lowe, A.J., Campbell, B.E., Matheson, M.C., Hamilton, G.S. & Dharmage, S.C.  2017. Prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in the general population: A systematic review.. Sleep Medicine Review, Volume 34, pp. 70-81.

2. Antic NA, Catcheside P, Buchan C, et al. The effect of CPAP in normalizing daytime sleepiness, quality of life, and neurocognitive function in patients with moderate to severe OSA. 2011. Sleep. 34(1), pp.111–119.

3. Romero E, Krakow B, Haynes P, Ulibarri V. Nocturia and snoring: predictive symptoms for obstructive sleep apnea. 2010. Sleep Breath. 14(4), pp.337–343.

4. Wimms, A. Woehrle, H., Ketheeswaran, S., Ramanan, D. & Armistead, J. 2016. Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Women: Specific Issues and Interventions. Biomed Research International.

5. Johns MW. A new method for measuring daytime sleepiness: the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. 1991. Sleep, 14, pp. 50-55.

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