What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?


Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start while we sleep. 

In deep sleep, the muscles of the throat relax. Usually, this natural process of relaxation does not cause any problems with breathing. However, for a person with OSA, the muscles at the back of the throat become so relaxed that the tissues close off a section of the airway. The affected person will attempt to breathe, but with no air entering the lungs, the level of oxygen in the blood drops. The brain will react to the rapid drop by triggering brief arousal from sleep to resume breathing. Pauses in breath can continue for 10-30 seconds, but can often persist for one minute or more. 

The cycle outlined can occur multiple times per night, often without the sufferer being aware of the issue.  

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OBA) occurs across a variety of age groups, but frequency tends to increase as you age. In New Zealand, OSA is estimated to affect 4% or men, and at least 2% of women. The most common demographic to experience obstructive sleep apnea are middle-aged men. Further, OSA has been shown to be more prevalent in Maori men than non-Maori men.

What are the symptoms? 


  • Excessive day time sleepiness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Cognitive defects
  • Changes in mood
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased libido or impotence
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tightness around the face causing sinusitis-type symptoms

During Sleep: 

  • Snoring
  • Witnessed apnoeas
  • Non-refreshing sleep
  • Choking
  • Restlessness
  • Vivid Dreams
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Insomnia and frequent awakenings
  • Hypersalivation
  • Diaphoresis (sweating)

How serious is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

OSA is a potentially serious medical condition. It is closely linked to serval conditions that impact the quality of life and people with OSA have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and irregular heartbeat. 

Due to feelings of sleepiness during the day, there is an increased risk of falling asleep while driving, a risk that can be avoided with immediate treatment. Loss of productivity at work contributes to a massive economic impact on society. This is particularly relevant in Aotearoa New Zealand where ACC bears substantial costs of accident-related healthcare and rehabilitation costs.

What’s the difference between Sleep Apnoea and Obstructive sleep apnoea?

There are typically two types of sleep apnoea, obstructive sleep apnoea (more common) and central sleep apnoea (which is rarer). As discussed, OSA is the process in which your airway becomes blocked while sleeping. Central sleep apnoea occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. The difference here is in the brain signals, rather than the physical obstruction.

What are the main treatments of obstructive sleep apnoea? 

Lifestyle Change

Lifestyle interventions are the simplest approach to reducing the severity of OSAS in patients with mild, moderate and even severe symptoms. This includes weight loss, regular exercise, avoiding drugs, smoking and alcohol (partially a few hours prior to bedtime). 

Positive airway pressure (CPAP, Auto PAP or BIPAP)

Postive Airway Pressure (PAP) therapy is a highly effective treatment for sleep apnoea. PAP therapy involves a pump that maintains pressure in the airways during sleep via tubing and a fitted mask.  

Dental Appliances 

A number of dental appliances or devices can assist in holding the jaw and tongue in a particular position to keep airways open. This custom made device eases the jaw forward and holds the tongue in place that maintains an open airway. 

Our treatment approach


If you are reading the above and suspect you may have obstructive sleep apnoea, it’s worth making an appointment with one of our specialists. We recommend your partner comes with you to the appointment if they are able to describe your symptoms (both awake and asleep) in clearer detail. 

If you are worried about your sleep apnoea, make an appointment to see our sleep specialist.

If you want to learn how your sleep apnoea is affecting you and what treatments can help, take our sleep test.

If you are worried about your sleep problem, make an appointment to see our sleep specialist.

If you want to learn how your sleep problem is affecting you and what treatments can help, take our sleep test.

Auckland Sleep provides a multi-faceted approach to treating sleep disorders. Our goal is to provide the best possible sleep treatments, accessible to everyone in the community.