Sleep apnoea

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is when your breathing stops and starts again whilst you sleep.

Why does this happen?

When you sleep your throat muscles relax and air flows freely into your lungs.

If you have sleep apnoea your airways become too narrow or even close while you sleep. This stops you breathing for a short time.

Your brain will make sure that you will always start breathing again, you may wake up when this happens.  You will then carry on breathing again.

This can happen 100s of times during the night, sometimes without you knowing!

Non-urgent advice: You are more likely to have sleep apnoea if:

You are a man and middle-aged

You are a woman past menopause

You are overweight or obese

You have a large neck size

You have a large tongue

You have a small or narrow airway.

You have medical condition that makes these things more likely such as Downs Syndrome or Prada Willi


How do I know if I have sleep apnoea?

During the night or whilst you sleep, you, or those around you may notice:

  • That you snore loudly,
  • your breathing may also stop and start and you might make gasping, snorting or choking noises whilst you sleep,
  • you might also wake up a lot during the night.

During the day, you may also feel very tired, find it hard to concentrate, or have mood swings or a headache when you wake up

It can be very hard to tell that you have sleep apnoea but other people may notice your symptoms more than you do.

Does it matter that I have sleep apnoea?

Without treatment, sleep apnoea can lead to other serious health problems including:

  • high blood pressure
  • a higher chance of having a stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • depression or mood changes
  • difficulty concentrating

You might also feel grumpy and tired because you cannot sleep well.

What can I do to help my sleep apnoea?

You can talk to your GP about your symptoms.

You might be given advice about things that can help you to get a good night’s sleep. Your GP may advise you about losing weight, stopping smoking or being more active.

You might be referred to a sleep clinic for overnight sleep monitoring.

Some people are given a machine called CPAP to help them get a good night’s sleep.

This can help a lot

  • it can improve your breathing while you sleep by stopping your airways getting too narrow
  • it can improve the quality of your sleep and help you feel less tired
  • it can also reduce the risk of other health problems linked to sleep apnoea, such as high blood pressure

More information on sleep apnoea

See the keeping healthy section of this website for more tips on lifestyle changes that can help.

You can also find more information about sleep apnoea on the NHS website.

The Sleep Apnoea resource page has been developed in collaboration with Leeds Sleep and Complex Ventilation Service.