Rosemary Ann Ogilvie


Intro: Sleep apnoea affects 25 per cent of adult Australians, but most sufferers will not be aware they have it, which is a concern as it can have serious ramifications. This article looks at the conditions and its causes, and suggest ways to overcome it.


My partner’s all-night-long snoring and snorting and gasping makes it almost impossible for me to sleep, to the point that I’m thinking I’ll have move into the spare bedroom before I lose my job. It leaves us both exhausted and thick headed, and this causes us to get really snappy with each other, which is affecting our relationship. What should I do ?


Make an appointment for them to see their GP, as this could be sleep apnoea. It’s essential that anyone who suspects they suffer from sleep apnoea obtain a proper medical diagnosis as this condition has broad health implications, not least of which is damage to the eyes.

While you won’t be aware that you suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), your partner certainly will be, even if they don’t know what it’s called. They’ll just know – as this person does – that it’s incredibly annoying, and exhausting, and just wish you would learn to control the snoring, snorting and gasping that keeps them awake most of the night!
People with OSA generally begin to snore heavily soon after falling asleep. The snoring often notches up in volume, then suddenly stops for a while, only to be broken by a loud snort and gasp –- just as you breathe a sigh of relief that silence reigns. It’s a pattern that repeats continuously through the night.

During sleep, all the muscles in the body become more relaxed, including the muscles that help keep the airway open and allow air to flow into the lungs. Under normal circumstances, the upper throat remains open enough for air to pass by. However, some people have a narrower throat area. When the muscles in their upper throat relax, their breathing can stop for up to 60 seconds, until their brain registers the lack of breathing or a decline in oxygen levels and sets off an internal alarm, causing the person to rouse slightly. They open the upper airway, make the characteristic snort or gasp, then (infuriatingly!) fall asleep again almost immediately.

The snoring is caused by the air trying to squeeze through the narrowed or blocked airway. However, it needs to be said that not everyone who snores suffers OSA: the condition affects about 25 per cent of men and nine per cent of women.

Other factors that increase the risk of sleep apnoea include:

  • Sleeping on your back.
  • Large neck or collar size (43cm in men and 41cm in women)
  • Large tongue, which may fall back and block the airway.
  • Certain shapes of the palate or airway, which cause the airway to be narrower or collapse more easily.
  • Large tonsils and adenoids in children, which can block the airway. Children with very large tonsils and adenoids should be assessed by a doctor to prevent future development of OSA. While surgery may cure the condition in children, it appears to be ineffective for most adults.


This fragmented sleep leaves the person feeling irritable, unrefreshed, and sleepy or seriously fatigued the next day. Concentration may be poor, which can affect work performance and increase the risk of industrial and road accidents. They may suffer hard-to-treat headaches and mood swings; develop high blood pressure; have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease; and often experience impotence and low libido. 


The most common cause of the condition is obesity, followed closely by alcohol consumption, especially in the evening. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles and hampers the brain’s reaction to sleep-disordered breathing, so this is the first thing to look at, for it can bring almost immediate relief even if it’s not the most welcome course of action.
OSA is more likely to occur in people with metabolic syndrome, a condition affecting 25 per cent of the adult Australian population, although it also occurs in children. Metabolic syndrome is characterised by the excess belly fat (midriff obesity) carried by many men, and increasing numbers of women. It’s also characterised by insulin resistance. If insulin doesn’t work properly, the body pumps out more, and therefore it struggles to get sugar into the cells. Consequently, these people suffer major fatigue, particularly in the daytime. It can also cause high blood pressure and heart disease.


The best way to improve insulin function is to shed the belly fat. The key points here are firstly, to exercise in the morning, before breakfast: because you’ve been fasting for 10-plus hours, this maximises fat burning. The second factor is to change your diet by drastically reducing intake not only of sugar, but also grains, because grain products such as bread, pasta, rice, and breakfast cereals are approximately 50-75 per cent carbohydrate, which means every 100-gram serving equates to 50-75 grams of sugar in your body once digested.
Ideally, consult a qualified naturopath or nutritionist, who can design a tailored diet program that suits your body constitution and your lifestyle.