If you snore loudly at night and are sleepy during the day, you may have OSA. This condition is when the throat relaxes too much during sleep so that it flops shut, stopping breathing (apnoea). After a few seconds your brain detects what is happening and wakes you up so that your throat opens and breathing restarts. Sleep usually quickly returns but then further apnoeas can occur in a repetitive cycle. If they happen frequently then sleep is so disrupted that the sufferer has difficulty waking up in the morning and finds it hard to stay awake during the day.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Waking up choking.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Memory and concentration problems.

Factors which make OSA worse include:

  • Excess weight.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Sleeping on your back if your snoring is worse in that position.
  • Smoking.

Apart from the obvious problems caused by excessive daytime sleepiness, severe OSA can also cause high blood pressure and may increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke in later life.

If you or your partner think you could have OSA then you should go to your GP to discuss a referral to a sleep centre.

If referred to the RSSC you would undergo a simple sleep study. If the results confirm OSA, you will receive an appointment to come to clinic to be assessed by a sleep specialist and discuss whether treatment is needed. Sometimes the simple sleep study does not provide an answer and a more sophisticated sleep study called a polysomnogram is organised.


Simple measures, such as weight loss, stopping smoking or reduction of alcohol intake may be all that is needed. More severe cases require specific treatment. The most effective is CPAP therapy. Occasionally a device worn in the mouth during sleep, which keeps your throat open, is worth trying.

Case Study

A 51-year-old man (Mr S) went to his GP with difficulty waking up in the morning. He had been feeling increasingly tired during the day and had started falling asleep at work when at his computer, and even during meetings. Initially a source of mild amusement, his employers were beginning to lose patience. His productivity at work was falling off and he had recently undergone an appraisal where he was advised to improve his performance or expect his continuing position in the company to be questioned.

Mr S was overweight despite having made some efforts to reduce his calorie intake and starting to cycle to work. He had always been a snorer but his wife no longer slept in the same room due to the noise. He tended to spend most of his evenings asleep on the sofa and his wife had noticed that he seemed to stop breathing regularly when he did so.

Mr S's GP referred him to the RSSC. He was seen by a sleep specialist after doing a home sleep study and was told that he had Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. He was advised that it was severe enough to require CPAP therapy. Mr S was seen on the ward a few weeks later to be started on CPAP. Within days he felt significantly better. He woke up feeling alert and was no longer having difficulty staying awake at work. His productivity was markedly improved and he was feeling optimistic about his future employment. Despite both having had initial misgivings about sleeping with CPAP, Mr and Mrs S were now more often than not sharing the same bed.

Patient Information Leaflet

Click here to download the leaflet ‘Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and CPAP Therapy’.