Sleep apnoea: Detection and treatment

Dr Lau Pik Onn / 18 Jul, 2022

Sleep apnoea in SingaporeSleep apnoea in Singapore

Sleep apnoea is an extremely common sleep disorder. It’s estimated that around 15% of the Singaporean community are impacted by sleep apnoea, causing them to stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night.


What is sleep apnoea?What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a disorder where your breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. This happens when your throat muscles relax during sleep and block the airway, forcing you to wake and breathe normally.

This breathing pattern can happen hundreds of times each night, causing you to wake up choking or gasping for air.

For some people, these pauses may be so brief (10 seconds or less) that they do not wake you up. In these cases, sleep apnoea causes oxygen levels to drop and carbon dioxide levels to rise in the blood. At this point, the brain sends signals that tighten muscles in your throat so you can breathe again – beginning another cycle of shallow breathing, followed by another pause. This cycle repeats itself throughout the night until you wake with severe sleepiness, headaches, dizziness or lightheadedness.

What are the causes of sleep apnoea? Causes

Sleep apneoa can be caused by anatomical factors, such as a large tongue or jaw, and by other high-risk conditions (e.g., obesity or heart failure). The risk of developing sleep apnoea increases with age, however it can still occur in children and teenagers.

What are the different types of sleep apnoea? Types

There are three types of sleep apnoea: obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), central sleep apnoea (CSA) and mixed obstructive/central sleep apnoea (MSA). Central sleep apnoea occurs when your brain poorly controls your breathing while you sleep. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnoea, occurs when something blocks the airway during sleep.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnoea?Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnoea include:

  • Loud snoring – This is the most common symptom of sleep apnoea
  • Loud pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Feeling tired during the day despite sleeping well at night
  • Frequent headaches or migraines that worsen with time or don’t go away with treatment
  • Problems concentrating (e.g., being ‘foggy’)
  • Problems staying awake while driving or doing other tasks that require concentration
  • Headaches and dry mouth/nose when waking

What are the risk factors for untreated sleep apnoea?Risk factors

Sleep apnoea is a common but serious condition that can cause severe fatigue, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, diabetes, depression and other health problems if left untreated.

How is sleep apnoea diagnosed? Diagnosis

Doctors use an instrument called a polysomnogram (PSG) to diagnose sleep apnoea. The PSG records brain waves and muscle activity, as well as eye movement and blood oxygen levels, to help your doctor determine if you have sleep apnoea and, if so, what type of sleep apnoea it is.

Treatments for sleep apnoeaTreatments

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnoea, there are several treatments available to improve your quality of life:

  • Using a CPAP machine – This device delivers air through a mask worn over the nose and mouth to keep your airways open while you sleep
  • Treating underlying medical conditions – Some conditions like hypertension or diabetes may worsen breathing problems, so treating these conditions could also improve your symptoms
  • Weight loss – Losing weight can help reduce snoring and potentially improve pre-existing health conditions that impact breathing such as high blood pressure or diabetes

What to do if you think you may have sleep apnoeaNext steps

Sleep apnoea can lead to serious health consequences including high blood pressure and stroke if left untreated, so early detection and management is vital.

Don’t take your sleep for granted! If you’re worried about your snoring or have been experiencing any of the signs and symptoms listed above, please see your doctor as soon as possible to ensure an early diagnosis.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Sleep Apnoea. Mayo Clinic. (2020, July 28) Retrieved June 22 2022, from
  2. Practitioners, T. R. A. C. of general. (n.d.). Obstructive sleep apnoea and obesity. Australian Family Physician. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from
  3. Recognising sleep apnoea. Singapore Medical Journal (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from
  4. Gottlieb DJ, Punjabi NM. Diagnosis and Management of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: A Review. JAMA. 2020;323(14):1389-1400. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.3514. PMID: 32286648
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