2 Common Sleep-Related Medical Conditions

Posted on: 16 September 2016

Sleep is vitally important; it allows our bodies to rest and recover. However, there are a wide variety of medical conditions that can affect our sleep. These conditions may reduce the amount or quality of sleep, or in some cases have even more serious effects.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that affects over 18 million Americans. It occurs when the muscles that support the walls of the airways become weakened, causing them to narrow during sleep. This leads to breathing difficulties and 'apneas'—periods of around ten seconds, during which breathing completely stops. Obstructive sleep apnea causes interrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sleep apnea is often caused by being overweight. High levels of body fat can put strain on the muscles of the airways, making them more prone to narrowing or collapse. Drinking large amounts of alcohol and smoking can also increase the risk of developing the condition. Sleep apnea can often be treated through lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices can also be used to help keep the airways open during sleep.


Snoring refers to noticeable sounds made during sleep, caused by the vibration of soft tissue in the nose, mouth, or throat. Snoring usually occurs during the deepest stages of sleep, and worsens when the person is sleeping on their back. Chronic snoring can interrupt sleep and cause difficulty breathing. This can lead to fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and depression. If untreated, snoring will worsen over time, as it damages the blood vessels and weakens the muscles in the airways.

Snoring can affect anyone, but some people face an increased risk. Those who are overweight, smoke, or are taking sedatives or anti-depressants are more likely to develop chronic snoring. Often, lifestyle changes such as losing weight will help reduce snoring. However, in more serious cases, drastic treatments such as surgery may be required.

There are various types of snoring surgery, and the procedure used will depend on the exact cause of the snoring. Often, the surgery will involve removing the area of soft tissue that is vibrating. For example, a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) involves the removal of the uvula and some of the soft palate. These procedures are performed with the patient under general anaesthesia, and may be done with a scalpel or a high-powered laser.