Many people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also experience sleep apnoea, so what do you need to know about sleep apnoea with a lung condition?
Sleep apnoea occurs during sleep when the upper airways repeatedly collapse as your throat muscles relax. This blocks the flow of air and reduces, or even stops, breathing for short periods.
If you have sleep apnoea, you will make constant efforts to breathe through the obstructed airway. With little or no passage of air into the lungs, blood oxygen levels fall. This tells the brain to wake so that muscle tone can return, and airways reopen. But when you fall back into deep sleep, the muscles again relax.
This can happen many times during the night. While most sufferers are unaware that they are snoring or gasping, they wake feeling tired. Sleep apnoea is often worse during deep sleep or when you sleep lying on your back. At its most severe, it can be life-threatening.
Symptoms and factors
Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty maintaining concentration
- Poor memory
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- A morning headache
- Short temper
- Personality change.
Alcohol and sleeping tablets can make it worse as they further relax upper airway muscles. Alcohol also reduces your brain’s response, which can increase the duration and severity of sleep apnoea.
Other physical factors that can cause sleep apnoea include:
- Narrowing of throat and upper airway
- Blocked nose
- Large neck
- Small jaw
- Enlarged tongue, tonsils or uvula.
If your GP suspects you have sleep apnoea, they will refer you to a sleep disorders specialist. You will then likely undertake an overnight study, at home or under supervision, which monitors severity.
What are my treatment options?
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnoea, the severity of the condition will determine the therapy options. Milder cases may improve with lifestyle changes. More moderate to severe cases may benefit from a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that delivers air pressure through a mask whilst you sleep.
There are also oral appliances which can help such as mouth plates and tongue retainers. In more severe cases, weight loss or structural surgery also may be considered.
What lifestyle changes can help manage sleep apnoea with a lung condition?
Weight loss can help to reduce the severity of sleep apnoea.
Other tips include:
- Avoid alcohol up to two hours before going to sleep
- Avoid sleep tablets or tranquillisers where possible
- Nasal decongestant sprays and smoking cessation can help
- If it is worse lying on back, try positioning devices such as pillows, wedges or even tennis balls attached to pyjama backs.
It’s important to speak to your treating healthcare team and get a referral to a specialist to discuss what options are best for you.
Respiratory Care Nurse
Our free and confidential Respiratory Care Nurse can help you to live your best life managing a chronic lung condition such as COPD or bronchiectasis. Courtesy of three telephone appointments over 4-6 months, our skilled nurse can provide you with evidence-based information and support to help you manage your condition and live your best life.