Sleep Disturbances


What is snoring and sleep apnoea?
When breathing during sleep, the air we inhale goes through the nose or mouth into the throat, and then through the windpipe to the lungs. On the journey, the air passes the tongue, soft palate, uvula (the little ‘flap’ you can see at the back of your throat) and the tonsils.


When sleeping, muscles in the throat relax. This can cause the tongue, soft palate, uvula and tonsils to vibrate, and produce snoring sounds. In some snorers, the vibration can cause sleep disturbance by sending a signal to the brain saying ,‘you’re about to choke’ hundreds of times a night. In others, the muscles relax so much they actually suck shut, causing blockages in the airways and adding to the sleep disruption through drops in their oxygen levels When this occurs, it is called sleep apnoea. However, it is important to recognise that you don’t have to have sleep apnoea to have disturbed sleep from snoring.

Snoring and sleep apnoea can be disruptive to the snorer, their sleeping partner and sometimes others sleeping nearby. Snorers and anyone affected by their snoring can have poor quality sleep, leading to fatigue the next day. Heavy snorers are also at risk of other health problems, including high blood pressure, frequent (more than once) toileting at night, diabetes, loss of libido, irritability, and excessive daytime sleepiness.


Good sleep hygiene

If you routinely have difficulty sleeping, you may have developed some bad habits. Here are tips that may help:

go to bed and get up at the same time every day
get in touch with how much sleep your body needs – it is different for everyone
do something relaxing, such as reading, watching TV or listening to music at the end of your day, before you go to bed
avoid large meals, strenuous exercise or hard work just before going to bed
avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol before bed
avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon
make sure you are comfortable in bed by going to the toilet, and eating if you are hungry – try a light snack or a warm glass of milk
exercise regularly during the day
spend time outdoors in natural light each day
make your bedroom comfortable and quiet with a cool temperature
use for bed only for sleeping and sex – don’t share your bed with children or pets
don’t look at the clock all the time – it makes it more difficult to sleep
take medications – for any condition – at the same time every day
try not to have daytime naps so you are tired when you go to bed
if you have not fallen asleep within 30 minutes, read or get up. Don’t lie in bed worrying that you can’t sleep – it will only keep you awake!
don’t smoke – nicotine is a stimulant which can hinder sleep
don’t rely on alcohol or sleeping tablets to get to sleep.


Over-the-counter treatments for snoring include snoring strips, special dental devices and natural sleeping remedies. For sleep partners affected by snoring, ear plugs can help block noise but you should be aware that snoring can be a marker for other problems and can be treated very successfully. Consider discussing things further with your doctor if you have any additional symptoms or common medical conditions such as:

daytime sleepiness
high blood pressure
frequent toileting at night
loss of libido
irritability or mood disorders such as depression
heart disease

Although sleep problems are highly prevalent, many general practice doctors are just starting to recognise the signs and symptoms. If your symptoms persist, consider seeing a doctor with a special interest in sleep disorders.