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Lakes DHB Sleep Service

Public Service, Respiratory

What is sleep apnoea?

Apnoea means no breathing.  Sleep apnoea is the medical term for interruptions in breathing during sleep.  

It is a potentially life threatening condition.
 
What does sleep apnoea do to you?

People with untreated sleep apnoea are prone to nodding off to sleep during the day.  This greatly increases their risk of falling asleep at the wheel while driving. Other symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Sexual performance problems
  • Personality changes (e.g. depression)
  • Lapses in concentration 

What happens with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?

If the muscles at the back of the throat relax too much the airway becomes completely blocked and breathing stops.  This is called an “apnoea’ which means “no air flow to the lungs”.  Each time your airway blocks off your body may not get enough oxygen.
 
The apnoea (no air flow to the lungs) can last 10 seconds or more and can happen hundreds of times at night.  During the apnoea, the brain soon recognises there is a problem and wakes the person up a little.  The muscles then firm up which means the airway opens and breathing begins again.
 
As the person relaxes and becomes deeply asleep, further apnoeas will happen.  This can significantly affect sleep quality.

Who gets OSA?

  • Most common in men
  • People who are overweight
  • Those who have nose or throat problems i.e. nasal polyps, large tonsils
  • Those with certain facial features including a small throat

This page was last updated at 11:25AM on May 24, 2021.