Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Snoring may be a common night-time nuisance, but it can also be a sign of a sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnoea.


Chronic severe snoring could be more than a nuisance for a spouse — it could be a sign of a dangerous sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

“Sleep apnoea or OSA affects a person’s breathing and interrupts sleep,” explained Dr Adeline Tan, Consultant, Respiratory Medicine, JurongHealth. “People with sleep apnoea stop breathing repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times, while they sleep.”

This is because overly relaxed airway muscles collapse, causing a complete or partial blockage of the upper airway. This forces the diaphragm and chest muscles to work extra hard to reopen the airway, resulting in gasping or jerking as breathing resumes. The blockage of the airway does more than cause an abrasive snore — it disrupts oxygen flow, interrupts sleep and stresses vital organs.

Snoring and Lack of Sleep Affects Sleep Quality

Poor sleep quality affects job and/or school performance and increases the risk of workplace and road accidents.

OSA is also linked to many health problems, Dr Tan highlighted. “Untreated sleep apnoea can lead to hypertension, stroke, irregular heart rhythm, enlargement of the heart muscle, heart failure, diabetes, depression and even sudden death.” 

Related: How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Mental Wellbeing

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Symptoms

OSA often goes undiagnosed because it is mistaken for "normal" snoring. However, due to the many serious potential complications linked to OSA, it is important to see a doctor if you exhibit a number of these symptoms.

  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Headaches upon waking
  • Trouble concentrating; forgetfulness or irritability
  • Night sweats
  • Restlessness at sleep
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Snoring
  • Sudden awakening with gasping or choking

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Treatment

Treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea is determined and customised depending on the root cause(s). OSA risk is higher in those who are overweight or in people with large tonsils or a small face and jaw. Drinking alcohol or taking sleeping pills can also make the airway more susceptible to collapse during sleep.

Apart from weight management, oral devices and surgery, OSA can be managed with a continuous positive airway pressure — a mask-like device that keeps the airway open while you sleep.

Related: 3 Ways to Improve Sleep Quality

Research on Obstructive Sleep Apnoea in Asians

Sleep apnoea mainly affects people of Chinese and Malay ethnicities.  

The results of the above study are interesting because although obesity is one of the risk factors for OSA, those of Chinese ethnicity have the lowest obesity rates among the three major ethnic groups but the highest prevalence of OSA. This study provides an update on OSA prevalence in Asians and will go towards improving and targeting public education and awareness and diagnosis and treatment of OSA.

By Adam Koh, in consultation with Dr Adeline Tan, Consultant, Respiratory Medicine, JurongHealth. This article titled "Music of the Night" was first published in OneHealth, Issue 8, 2016.

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