Does your partner have sleep apnoea?

By Hayley Baldwin

3 minutes

19 March 2019

Is my partner's raucous snoring sleep apnoea?

When a gentle kick or a roll onto the side won't do the trick, there are better solutions than sleeping on the couch.

It’s 11:33pm, you’ve been in bed for an hour and your partner is sound asleep. You, however, are lying next to them, staring at the ceiling, eyes burning, listening to them brazenly roar through the night.

But how do you know if your partner’s snoring is just that, or something more serious?

What is snoring?

“Snoring is basically caused from a vibration of soft tissue in the upper airway,” says Nathan Paull, pharmacist and owner of Friendlies Pharmacy in Maddington.

It's super common - in fact most adults will snore at some point – and can be triggered by things like sinus troubles, pregnancy, drinking alcohol and sleeping on your back.

Snoring can be alleviated by adopting a few healthy lifestyle and sleeping habits.

“Going to bed around the same time each night, avoiding caffeine late in the day, and limiting alcohol can all contribute to a more sound sleep,” says Paull.

However, if you can hear your partner’s snoring through a closed door or you witness gasping or snorting, they may have sleep apnoea.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a complex condition, but Paull describes it simply as “a pause or period of low breathing during sleep”.

“We call the pause an apnoea, and the periods of reduced breathing a hypopnoea.”

The most common form of sleep apnoea is known as obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA.

Simply put, OSA is an obstruction of the airway. The walls of the throat come together while sleeping, blocking off the airway.

People with OSA stop breathing for a period of time (generally between ten seconds and up to one minute) until their brain registers a drop in oxygen levels, and sends a small wake-up call.

This causes them to rouse slightly, open their upper airway, possibly snort and gasp, then drift back to sleep almost immediately. In most cases, people won’t even realise they’re waking up.

Is it dangerous? It can be.

Oxygen levels within the body reduce with each breathing pause. Combine this with frequent awakenings causing poor sleep quality, and this can increase the risk of a stroke, heart attack, or motor vehicle accident.

“Uncontrolled OSA can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, mood and metabolic disorders, high blood pressure, and poor sexual function,” says Paull.

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea?

Your role is more important than you think when it comes to figuring out if your partner has obstructive sleep apnoea.

“It’s very common for a patient’s partner to recognise the changes, rather than the patient themselves, and approach us at the initial phases for advice,” says Paull.

“If a partner has ever witnessed a pause in the snoring or a sudden grunt or gasping noise, then that can be a sign they have witnessed an apnoea.”

As well as listening for periods of silence and moments of gasping, Paull advises to look out for symptoms during the day too.

“Irritability, low energy levels, constant tiredness and ‘brain fog’ are very commonly experienced by the patient.”

As for your partner, they'll notice:

  • daytime sleepiness
  • waking up and feeling unrefreshed
  • irritability and brain fog
  • waking with a snore, gasping or choking

What’s the treatment for OSA?

If this sounds all too familiar, encourage your partner to take our four-question sleep apnoea quiz.

This may point them in the direction of a free sleep apnoea consultation at a Friendlies Pharmacy.

The results of that consultation may lead them to an at-home sleep study, or an in-hospital sleep study, depending on what they feel more comfortable with.

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, treatment options can be discussed.

In the meantime, there are also plenty of products out there to help both patients and witnesses of snorers, but Paull stands by the humble earplug.

“That simple cylinder shape piece of foam has surely saved countless marriages!”

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