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The first time you wake up unable to breathe or move your body can be terrifying, but it’s actually the terror you feel that allows you to regain control of your body and start breathing again.
Panic is a natural reaction to when you stop breathing in your sleep. It alerts your brain to what’s going on, which in turn triggers your body into action to wake up and deal with the problem.
However, sometimes it can take a few seconds for your body to get the message, and that’s why you may briefly lay paralysed until you gain the physical strength to roll over or sit up.
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This experience would sound very familiar to those who suffer from sleep apnoea, a common sleep disorder where sufferers suddenly stop breathing in their sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) takes place when the upper airway becomes blocked due to the throat muscles relaxing, thus preventing regular air flow to the body.
Some people who have suffered from sleep apnoea for a long time may learn to sense it in the moments before it happens and therefore maintain a certain level of control while it’s happening.
But due to their familiarity with sleep apnoea, their panic reaction might take longer to kick in, meaning their episodes could last longer, leaving their bodies deprived of vital oxygen.
Episodes typically last around 10 to 20 seconds, throwing up while taking amoxicillin but these episodes can happen repeatedly over the course of a few minutes.
In some cases, your breathing can pause for just a brief moment, barely long enough for you to notice, but this can happen up to 100 times in an hour, severely affecting your oxygen intake.
For this reason, you could possibly suffer from sleep apnoea your whole life and never know about it unless a partner informs you.
People who suffer from sleep apnoea are more often than not loud snorers. Their partners may also notice them making gasping, snorting and choking noises in their sleep.
Sufferers might regularly wake up with a headache and generally feel very tired, moody and dazed due to a deficient level of oxygen in their body.
In the long term, this could lead to other health complications, and leave sufferers at an increased risk of experiencing a heart attack, cardiac arrest, stroke, diabetes, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, obesity and Alzheimer's disease.
In 2016, actress Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in Star Wars, died in her sleep at the age of 61 due to sleep apnoea and other health complications, leading many sufferers to take their condition more seriously.
If you suspect you suffer from sleep apnoea, you can ask to be referred to a sleep clinic. Mild cases don’t always need treatment, but people with severe sleep apnoea may need to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device to ensure they’re getting a steady flow of oxygen at night.
In extreme cases, one might need to undergo surgery to fix anything that might be causing sleep apnoea, such as large tonsils.
Otherwise, doctors may encourage overweight sufferers to lose weight if that is found to be contributing to their sleep apnoea.
Doctors would also advise sufferers to avoid sleeping on their backs, and to cut smoking and drinking from their lifestyle.
Signs of sleep apnoea while you sleep:
- breathing stopping and starting
- making gasping, snorting or choking noises
- waking up a lot
- loud snoring
Signs of sleep apnoea during the day:
- feel very tired
- find it hard to concentrate
- have mood swings
- have a headache when you wake up
The NHS says you should see a GP if:
- your breathing stops and starts while you sleep
- you make gasping, snorting or choking noises while you sleep
- you always feel very tired during the day
- Curious Health
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