Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Signs and Symptoms

The main symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, is a pause in your breathing when you are asleep. This is caused by a blockage of the soft tissue around your airways. Episodes of interrupted breathing are often easily observed by others when an individual is sleeping. The sleeper, however, might not know these breathing pauses are happening. Another common symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea or OSA that you may experience is tiredness resulting from a lack of deep sleep.


Most people with OSA snore loudly. Their breathing may be loud and long, and it is often interrupted by gasping, snorting or choking in their sleep with each Apnoea event.

If you have OSA, you may have no memory of your interrupted breathing during the night. However, when you wake up, you are likely to feel as though you have not slept poorly and struggle to focus throughout the day.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea can be confused with other health issues or sleep disorders. It’s crucial to know the signs so you can identify if you have Sleep Apnoea.



Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea:


icon cross Gasping and choking during sleep

You can gasp for air because you are choking during sleep. During an Apnoea episode, if your airway is blocked, your brain will wake you up. This is to help you breathe again and can cause gasping or choking noises.

icon cross Snoring

As you sleep, the soft tissue in your airways can relax and vibrate as air passes over it, causing the snoring noise. Snoring can be caused by soft tissue in your nose, mouth, tongue, tonsils, or uvula.

icon cross Feeling excessively tired during the day

When you experience a pause in breathing, your brain reacts to the lack of oxygen by waking you up. Anyone who experiences this can stop breathing for as much as 10 seconds with each event. Sleep Apnoea can occur up to one hundred times every hour in severe cases.

The whole process then repeats regularly as the person drifts into deeper sleep, only to wake up again. The individual is usually completely unaware of all this, and rarely do they wake entirely. They then wake up still tired and may struggle with daytime fatigue throughout the day.

icon cross Anxiety and depression

Not getting enough sleep due to Sleep Apnoea can show signs similar to those in certain mental health disorders. However, it’s not clear how much this lack of sleep might contribute to the development of these symptoms in people.

icon cross High blood pressure

Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during Sleep Apnoea increase blood pressure and strain the heart. Having Obstructive Sleep Apnoea increases your risk of high blood pressure (Hypertension).

icon cross Lack of interest in sex

Lack of good sleep can make you feel tired during the day and night, and when paired with depression, it can impact sexual desire.

icon cross Short temper

Not getting enough sleep due to Sleep Apnoea can affect your mood and how alert you feel.

In our brains, there are two chemicals, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), that play a big role in our emotions and awareness. These chemicals are in a brain area called the insula, which helps manage our emotions by combining signals from different brain parts. It also affects our thinking skills and controls things like blood pressure and sweating.

People with Sleep Apnoea often have lower levels of GABA and too much glutamate. GABA helps us stay calm, while glutamate does the opposite. High levels of glutamate can increase stress and make it hard for the brain to work properly.

icon cross Poor Memory and Concentration

Sleep loss can affect the prefrontal cortex activity, a part of your brain that helps with concentration. It’s thought that people who don’t get good sleep struggle to turn short-term memories into long-term ones. Storing memories is an important part of how our memory works and this usually happens when we sleep.

icon cross Frequent toilet visits during the night

If you experience frequent toilet visits during the night, this could be the result of a condition called Nocturia. Nocturia is very common in Sleep Apnoea patients due to these motions:

  1. Firstly, your oxygen decreases.
  2. Then, Carbon dioxide increases.
  3. Your blood becomes more acidic.
  4. The heart rate drops.
  5. Then, your blood vessels in the lungs start to constrict.

The body is alerted that something is wrong. The sleeper must wake enough to reopen the airway. By this time, the heart is racing and experiences a false signal of fluid overload. The heart releases a hormone-like protein that tells the body to get rid of sodium and water, resulting in Nocturia.

icon cross Headaches

Morning headaches can happen when you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). This condition causes you to stop breathing briefly while you sleep, which lowers the oxygen in your blood.

Because of this, your lungs end up holding onto air that’s mostly carbon dioxide, a waste gas. This carbon dioxide-rich air gets into your bloodstream. Less oxygen and more carbon dioxide in your blood can affect your brain, and that’s why you might get headaches if you have Sleep Apnoea.

icon cross Impotence (erectile dysfunction) and OSA

Scientists don’t know exactly why men can have erectile dysfunction, but sleep deprivation can cause testosterone levels to drop. This testosterone dip, plus the lack of oxygen, could be the cause. Both are important for a healthy erection. Stress (anxiety) and fatigue can also be contributing factors.


When to Get Tested

If you or your partner have observed any of the Sleep Apnoea symptoms listed above, you should speak to your GP or complete a private sleep study.

Chronic snoring is one of the most common indicators of OSA, particularly if followed by periods of silence. These breathing pauses typically occur when sleeping on your back as gravity pulls down on the upper airway and throat muscles.


Sleep Apnoea Causes & Risk Factors

OSA is caused by the throat muscles relaxing during sleep. This causes the airway to narrow or close, reducing airflow. As the airway narrows, it lowers the intake of oxygen and creates a build-up of carbon dioxide.

Your brain notices the impaired breathing and wakes you up, so you reopen your airway. This can present itself with choking or gasping for breath during sleep. These intervals are usually very brief and not remembered. This repeated cycle can occur up to 50 times or more throughout the night.

Risk factors vary from person to person, common factors include:

  • Body mass index (DMI): There is an increased risk of developing the condition in those with a higher body weight. This is because excess fatty tissue can accumulate around the throat, making an airway obstruction more likely.
  • Age: As we age the throat muscles deteriorate, which can increase the risk of OSA.
  • Physical features: Different anatomical features can increase the risk. These include large tonsils, a wider neck and a small and lower jaw.
  • Family history: If Sleep Apnoea runs in your family, you are more likely to develop it.
  • Gender: Men are 2 to 3 times more likely to have Sleep Apnoea.
  • Menopausal women: Menopause causes various hormonal fluctuations that can increase the risk of the condition.
  • Nasal congestion: If you suffer from frequent nasal congestion due to allergies, colds or a deviated septum you are at a higher risk.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk by as much as three times compared to those who do not smoke.
  • Asthma: There is a link between Sleep Apnoea and asthma.



Sleep Apnoea is a serious medical condition, and when left untreated, it can cause other health complications, including:

  • Heart problems: Constant drops in blood oxygen can increase blood pressure and strain the heart. In turn, this can cause heart disease, heart attacks and heart failure.
  • Memory loss: OSA prevents you from gaining restorative sleep, which helps with memory. Lack of sleep is associated with memory loss and, in some cases, Alzheimer’s.
  • Relationships: If you snore loudly, it affects not only you but also your partner. This disrupts relationships with many partners sleeping in a different bed.
at home sleep apnoea test on arm | CPAP.co.uk

Diagnosing Sleep Apnoea

If you have any of the symptoms of Sleep Apnoea you should take a test. You can do this by visiting your GP and being referred to the sleep clinic. Waiting times can be long, so you could take a private Sleep Apnoea test from the comfort of your home.

Our Home Sleep Test is a quick way to determine if you have OSA. The simple test records your sleep for one night, and your results are returned within two working days.

All sleep studies are analysed by our NHS trained sleep clinicians, and any treatment recommendations can be purchased from us.