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There are many types of common and complex sleep disorders, from troublesome snoring and REM sleep behaviour, to sleep apnoea, narcolepsy and parasomnias. We treat all sleep disorders, most commonly sleep apnoea. This condition causes interrupted breathing during sleep and it is frequently linked to obesity, unhealthy lifestyle choices and diabetes.
In patients with chronic sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, our specialists create tailored programmes of care to reduce symptoms and significantly improve quality of life.
Sleep apnoea has a number of potential causes or risk factors, most commonly:
- Being 40 years old or more
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Taking sedatives, or medication with a sedative effect
It is also more common in men than women and in those with a family history of the condition. In many other sleep disorders the exact causes are unknown. However, effective treatments and management can help sufferers of insomnia, restless leg syndrome, circadian disorders, and other sleep conditions lead a full and active life.
There are two types of interrupted breathing associated with the condition:
- Apnoea – this is when the throat muscles and soft tissue relax so much that they collapse and block the airway. It is classed as apnoea when this blockage lasts for more than 10 seconds at a time.
- Hypopnoea – this is when the blockage (as in apnoea, above) is partial, with a greater than 50% reduction in airflow.
These two symptoms can further cause:
- Extreme tiredness during the day, due to interrupted sleep. In turn, this can cause:
- Poor concentration
- Sore or dry throat, particularly on waking up
- Anxiety and depression
- Loss of sex drive and, in men, impotence
People with this condition can suffer with repeated episodes of apnoea and hypopnoea when in a deep sleep. These will usually cause a patient to rise from a deep sleep into a lighter state of wakefulness so the body can restore normal breathing. Other common sleep disorders and parasomnias (including insomnia, sleep walking and talking) can run in families, or triggered by stress, other illnesses and medication.
Specialists need to observe and monitor a person’s sleep patterns in order to accurately diagnose sleep apnoea and other common disorders. Often people who are concerned about a sleep disorder will ask their partner to observe them while they’re asleep. If you suspect interrupted breathing, your GP will start by asking you a series of questions about your sleep patterns and how you feel during the day. You may also be asked to wear a monitoring device at home, which records information that can be assessed by sleep specialists.
To get a more detailed view of your breathing during sleep, we may perform a polysomnography. This simply involves small electrodes being placed on your face and head and bands around your tummy and chest – you’ll then be asked to sleep in a room for the night so the nurses can monitor the signals from the equipment. Other tests that may be carried out to diagnose a sleep disorder include:
- Electro-encephalography (ECG)
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Electrocardiography (EEG)
- Sound and video recording
The most common form of treatment for all sleep disorders is lifestyle changes. If you are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol excessively or are under particularly high levels of stress, our specialists will work with you to help you lose weight, make simple changes and manage stress, anxiety and depression more effectively.
In cases of sleep apnoea where lifestyle changes are not effective, you may be treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This involves sleeping with a mask on, through which a continuous supply of compressed air is delivered, to keep the throat from closing. In patients that suffer with sleep apnoea due to certain characteristics of the mouth, throat or jaw (such as enlarged tonsils or a small lower jaw), surgery may be recommended.
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Problems sleeping? Ask the experts
The Royal Brompton Centre for Sleep offers private assessment and treatment services for a host of respiratory sleep disorders.
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