16 January 2020
Dr Ari Manuel is a Sleep and Ventilation Consultant at Spire Murrayfield Hospital, Wirral. With most of us experiencing disturbed sleep at some time, here Dr Manuel explains one of the most common causes, the potential health consequences and treatments available.
Poor sleep is a modern epidemic, with an estimated third of people in the UK suffering from insomnia at some point in their lives. We live in a sleep-deprived nation, with the finger of blame being pointed at a range of issues from social media to longer working hours and the blurring of boundaries between work and home life. What's not in dispute though is that a lack of sleep can be bad for your health, it could even contribute to a stroke or a heart attack if ignored for long enough. Addressing sleep complaints is as important as keeping your cholesterol or blood pressure in check and there is always help available to ensure you get a healthy night's sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), for example, one of the most common causes of insomnia, can be tackled in a variety of ways. As many as 700,000 people in the North West have clinically significant sleep apnoea, a condition that momentarily stops you breathing when you’re sleeping. It happens when your throat closes partially (hypopnoea) or completely (apnoea) during sleep, obstructing your airways for about 10 seconds. This will rouse you from a deep sleep or can, very briefly, wake you up. As sleep apnoea usually happens repeatedly, OSA can lead to poor quality sleep which in turn can affect your daily life, your health and the sleep of your partner. If left untreated, OSA could also increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, an abnormal heartbeat and type 2 diabetes, so it is important to seek help.
The first step is to see your GP who will asses your symptoms and try to discover the leading cause for your sleep problems. You may be referred to a specialist sleep clinic where tests will be carried out to determine if you have OSA. If you do not have OSA, simple things such as a face mask or ear plugs, could make a big difference or you may be prescribed medication in the short-term to help you fall asleep or maintain sleep.
If you are diagnosed with OSA you may be recommended to try a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine whereby you wear a mask which pumps pressurised air into your airways, expanding the nose, mouth and throat as you sleep. Around 60-70% of people who try a CPAP machine are still using it after a year because of the improvement they have experienced to their sleep. The machine does not work in isolation, however, changes may also need to be made to your lifestyle - like reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, for instance.
OSA can affect anyone of any age and any size but traditionally it is overweight, middle-aged men who are more susceptible to developing it. However, if your nose is very narrow or you have a family history of OSA, you may be at a higher risk. Whatever the cause, it is important to seek help if you don’t sleep well. Sleep is as essential to your well-being as exercise and a healthy diet. Poor quality sleep will result in you feeling tired all of the time and can lead to depression, low energy levels and low libido - so can affect all aspects of your life.
Whether you sleep too little, too much or are not refreshed, you should seek an expert’s advice - sooner rather than later. You could soon be on the path to a restful night's sleep. Dr Manuel offers a sleep disordered breathing (SDB) clinic weekly at Spire Murrayfield Hospital. Dr Manuel utilises the latest technology to enable a home based sleep study to confirm diagnosis and discuss treatment options for sleep apnoea.