Sleep aids

Over-the-counter products are short-term solutions, but there are other ways to improve sleep.
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  • Updated:9 Jan 2005

05.Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea, a condition where the sufferer stops breathing for at least 10 seconds, over and over again throughout the night, can be divided into two types. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), is caused when the airway passage is obstructed during sleep, for instance by the tongue. In central sleep apnoea, a far less common condition, respiration at night is affected by a disorder in brain function; its symptoms and diagnosis are similar but treatment may involve more elements.

OSA can be brought about or hastened by factors such as obesity or weight gain, smoking, alcohol and sedative use. It may also be the result of a person’s anatomy, such as enlarged tonsils.

If you suffer from sleep apnoea you’ll wake many times during the night (in order to start breathing again), although you may not remember doing so. These constant sleep disruptions usually result in daytime sleepiness. While many sufferers also have a snoring problem that may help diagnosis, it’s not always a symptom.

OSA is in fact often undiagnosed, leaving the sufferer tired, irritable and possibly vulnerable to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary disease. Other problems, such as falling asleep at the wheel, can also result from leaving OSA unchecked. If you find it hard to stay awake during the day (especially in the afternoon), wake up feeling tired despite the amount of sleep you’ve had or fall asleep easily in the afternoon, have yourself assessed for OSA. This involves having a polysomnogram — a test measuring various physiological activities while you sleep — to determine if you have the condition. A number of treatments are available for OSA. Sometimes weight loss, not sleeping on your back and avoiding alcohol and sedatives are enough to manage the condition. In more severe cases, dental appliances may be used to keep the airway open.

Nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is considered the most effective, non-invasive treatment for OSA. The CPAP machine has a nasal mask that blows air through the nose and holds the airway open, helping the sufferer breathe regularly through the night. Surgery is also an option. For children with OSA this often involves taking out their tonsils and adenoids. Occasionally, adults may also undergo surgical procedures for the condition. Studies suggest medication is an ineffective treatment for OSA.

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