Top 5 Sleep Apnoea Myths Debunked

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Sleep apnoea is one of the most common sleep disorders, affecting 24% of middle-aged men, 9% of middle-aged women and 2-3% of children. With so much misinformation out there, here are five widespread myths of sleep apnoea debunked. 

Myth #1: Sleep apnoea only affects men 

1 out of 5 adults in Australia experience mild sleep apnoea. Although men are twice as likely to have sleep apnoea as women, women with sleep apnoea are often under-diagnosed for a few reasons. 

According to Grace W. Pien, physicians often have a predetermined concept of a sleep apnoea patient; for example, a middle-aged overweight male. Thus, when symptoms such as morning headaches, mood disturbances and a lack of energy are brought up, diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is often overlooked. Instead such symptoms are pinpointed to other health conditions. This results in a less likely chance of being referred to a sleep clinic for further evaluation and increases the risks associated with skipping CPAP therapy.

Here are some common sleep apnoea misdiagnoses:

  • Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Fatigue from overworking 
  • Cardiac illnesses
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Insomnia
  • Menopausal changes 

Moreover, sleep apnoea expert Susheel P. Patil, states that women who have undergone menopause are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnoea. 

Children are also at risk of sleep apnoea as many as 1 in 10 children are affected by OSA. According to Dr. Craig Canapari, 33% of obese children suffer from OSA and 10-20% of children who snore may have sleep apnoea. However, overall up to 3% of children have sleep apnoea. 

Ultimately, all age groups from both genders are affected by the condition. 

Myth #2: Sleep apnoea is caused by obesity 

Being overweight or obese strongly increases the risk of developing sleep apnoea as the fatty tissue at the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway throughout the night. 

However, even a thin person can develop sleep apnoea if they have a narrow airway or structural abnormalities in the jaw, tonsils, tongue, septum and soft palate. By the same notion, an athlete with a muscular neck may experience similar problems. 

A person of average weight can have sleep apnoea too. Ultimately, the facial and neck anatomy is an important factor towards developing sleep apnoea. For example those that are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnoea have:

  • Large tonsils
  • A small jaw 
  • A recessed chin or a large neck
  • A large overbite

Thus weight does play an important factor. However, it is not the only factor as there are many other causes such as supine sleeping (lying flat on your back), a large neck circumference, recent weight gain or chronic sinusitis. 

Myth #3: Snoring means you have sleep apnoea

Snoring does not immediately diagnose you with sleep apnoea, rather it is just a ‘what-if’, a clue. To debunk this myth, not everyone who has sleep apnoea snores. 

Snoring is considered a symptom of sleep apnoea when it is followed by silent breathing pauses, choking or gasping sounds. In fact, people with OSA stop breathing almost 400 times during the night; each pause lasts 10-30 seconds, usually followed by a snort upon breathing again.

One in three men and one in five women who snore suffer from some form of OSA. Snoring also signals other health conditions such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity 

Myth #4: I look unattractive wearing a CPAP mask 

Interestingly from a physical perspective, research shows that wearing a CPAP mask makes a person look more attractive. 

In a 2013 study conducted by the University of Michigan, before and after photos of patients using CPAP therapy surprisingly revealed that the patients after therapy looked 68% more alert, 67% more attractive and 64% more youthful. 

The researchers also found that undergoing therapy decreased redness under the eyes and cheeks. Thus, in the long-run, patients are often happier, healthier, and more attractive because they are getting more restful sleep. 

Myth #5: One mask fits all – All CPAP devices are alike

Everyone’s face is unique, thus it is important to find a mask that fits and works for you. 

The main types of masks are face masks, nasal masks and pillow masks. There is often a misconception that a full face mask is better than a nasal mask, however this is not necessarily true. Full face masks are better suited for people who breathe through their mouth and require higher pressure. On the other hand, a nasal mask is preferred for those seeking more natural airflow and for those who move around in their sleep a lot. 

Moreover, each CPAP machine has different features and are therefore not all alike. Features such as fixed or variable pressure, humidification or pressure relief technology can be evaluated and chosen to suit your unique needs. 

Read our full comprehensive guide for more information on choosing the right mask and CPAP machine for you here

What’s next?

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. If you believe you may be at risk of sleep apnoea, do no hesitate to contact your doctor immediately and take the correct steps towards getting the right treatment for you.