Guide on Living With Sleep Apnea

The average person gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night, and the problem becomes more severe when they are suffering from conditions like sleep apnea. Learn more about sleep apnea, symptoms and treatment options.

By URLife Team
28 Jun 2023

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of our lives, essential for our physical and mental well-being. It is during sleep that our bodies rejuvenate and repair themselves, while our brains consolidate memories and process information. However, when our sleep becomes interrupted or disrupted, the consequences can be significant. One such sleep disorder that can have a profound impact is sleep apnea. Keep reading to know what sleep apnea is, its effects on your well-being, and the steps you can take to manage it.


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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterised by interrupted breathing during sleep. The condition is marked by repeated pauses in breathing, lasting several seconds to minutes, due to the relaxation or collapse of the throat muscles. These pauses, known as apneas, can occur multiple times throughout the night and disrupt the normal sleep cycle.


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Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most prevalent form of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. The blockage leads to breathing difficulties and subsequent oxygen deprivation, often causing the person to wake up briefly to restore normal breathing.


Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Unlike OSA, CSA is characterised by a lack of effort to breathe rather than physical airway blockage. The brain fails to send appropriate signals to the muscles responsible for breathing, resulting in interrupted airflow during sleep.


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Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can manifest through various symptoms, including:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating or experiencing memory problems
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Frequent awakenings during the night
  • Decreased libido and sexual dysfunction
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Unusual breathing patterns
  • Disruptions in brain function
  • Feeling tired when waking up


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Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors contribute to the development of sleep apnea, including:


Excess weight can lead to the accumulation of fatty tissues around the neck, narrowing the airway and obstructing normal breathing.


Physical Attributes

Certain anatomical features, such as a large neck circumference, narrowed airway, or a small jaw, can increase the risk of sleep apnea.


Age and Gender

Sleep apnea can affect individuals of any age, but it is more common in middle-aged and older adults. Men tend to be at a higher risk compared to women.


Family History

Genetic factors and family history of sleep apnea can increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.


Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to airway inflammation and muscle relaxation, leading to sleep apnea symptoms.


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Health Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, if left untreated, can have severe health implications, including:

Daytime Fatigue

The disrupted sleep patterns caused by sleep apnea result in excessive daytime sleepiness, which can impair cognitive function, productivity, and overall quality of life.


High Blood Pressure

The repeated drops in oxygen levels and increased blood pressure during apneas put a strain on the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to hypertension and an increased risk of heart disease.


Type 2 Diabetes

Sleep apnea is associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


Stroke and Heart Disease

The decreased oxygen levels and strain on the cardiovascular system can contribute to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and irregular heart rhythms.


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Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

If you suspect you have sleep apnea or if your doctor suspects it based on your symptoms, they may recommend a sleep study, also known as a polysomnography. This is the most common test used to diagnose sleep apnea. During a sleep study, you will be monitored overnight while you sleep in a specialised sleep centre or sometimes even at home with portable equipment.


During the sleep study, various sensors and monitors are used to collect data on your brain waves, heart rate, eye movements, muscle activity, and blood oxygen levels. This data helps in assessing the quality of your sleep and identifying any abnormalities or disruptions that could indicate sleep apnea.


Based on the results of the sleep study, your doctor will evaluate the frequency and severity of your breathing disturbances during sleep. Sleep apnea is typically diagnosed by the number of apneas (complete breathing pauses) and hypopneas (partial breathing obstructions) that occur per hour of sleep.


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Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

CPAP therapy is considered the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, particularly for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It involves wearing a mask over the nose or nose and mouth while sleeping. The CPAP machine delivers a continuous stream of pressurised air, which helps keep the airway open, preventing apneas and improving breathing. CPAP therapy requires a proper fitting mask and adjustments to the air pressure to ensure comfort and effectiveness.


Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)

Similar to CPAP, BiPAP therapy delivers pressurised air to maintain an open airway. However, unlike CPAP, BiPAP offers two different levels of air pressure—one for inhalation and a lower pressure for exhalation. This feature is beneficial for individuals who may have difficulty exhaling against higher CPAP pressures. BiPAP therapy is often recommended for individuals with more severe sleep apnea, as well as those who have difficulty tolerating CPAP.


Oral Appliance Therapy

Oral appliances, also known as mandibular advancement devices (MADs), are custom-made devices that resemble mouthguards or retainers. They are designed to reposition the jaw and tongue, helping to keep the airway open during sleep. Oral appliance therapy is commonly prescribed for mild to moderate sleep apnea or for individuals who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy. These devices are fitted by dentists specialised in dental sleep medicine.


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Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to medical interventions, certain lifestyle modifications can significantly improve sleep apnea symptoms. These include:

a. Weight Loss

Losing excess weight can reduce the severity of sleep apnea, as it helps decrease the amount of fatty tissue that narrows the airway.


b. Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity not only aids in weight management but also improves overall cardiovascular health and respiratory function, potentially reducing sleep apnea symptoms.


c. Sleep Position

Sleeping on the side instead of the back can help prevent the collapse of the airway and reduce sleep apnea episodes. Special pillows or positional therapy devices can be used to encourage side sleeping.


d. Avoiding Alcohol and Sedatives

Alcohol and sedatives relax the throat muscles, further obstructing the airway during sleep. It is advisable to avoid or limit their consumption, especially close to bedtime.


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Surgical intervention may be considered for individuals with severe sleep apnea who have not responded well to other treatments or have anatomical abnormalities contributing to the condition. Surgical options include:

a. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)

This procedure involves removing excess tissue from the throat, including the uvula and parts of the soft palate, to widen the airway.


b. Mandibular Advancement Surgery

In some cases, surgery to reposition the jaw and facial bones may be recommended to correct structural abnormalities causing sleep apnea.


c. Tracheostomy

This is a last-resort procedure in which a small opening is made in the neck, and a tube is inserted to bypass the obstructed airway. Tracheostomy is typically reserved for severe, life-threatening cases of sleep apnea that are unresponsive to other options of treatment.


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Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have sleep apnea. Taking regular health checks can help detect sleep apnea at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.

With our medical professionals by your side, routine health check-ups will never be an issue. Advanced laboratory technologies back UR.Life’s Occupational Health Centers (OHC), and with highly qualified experts/technicians, we’re committed to delivering trusted and quality recommendations, modifications and advice to you.



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