One relatively common but often undiagnosed issue is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), a disorder that means the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep.
This interrupts normal breathing for up to 10 seconds, and can wake the body up hundreds of times throughout the night, preventing the deep restoring sleep we need.
Most people remain unaware they are actually suffering from apnoea, so often feel exhausted without understanding why. In many cases, extreme snoring with small breaks in between can be a sign of OSA.
If left untreated, it can lead to more serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Kath Hope, founder and chief executive of the charity Hope2Sleep, had OSA diagnosed several years ago, and has since worked to support and educate other people with the condition.
Hope2Sleep has now been running for seven years and has brought together more than 8,000 fellow OSA sufferers
“I was diagnosed after suffering from everyday exhaustion,” says Ms Hope. “I didn’t know I had it for a long time. I just lived a really busy life as a music teacher, and assumed that this was the cause of my exhaustion.
“It wasn’t until I went to see a specialist for a different issue that I was asked if I snored. I had been snoring quite badly for years, so the specialist sent me for a sleep study, which showed I had severe OSA.”
After an initial wait, Ms Hope was given therapy via a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The machine supplied a constant and steady stream of air pressure to keep her airways open through a face mask.
Initially Ms Hope found her CPAP mask bulky and uncomfortable to sleep in, but after some research she discovered a whole new range of technology in the United States.
“At the time, the only CPAP comfort products available were in America as OSA was not that well known in the UK. I got hold of these products and found several that worked for me – that’s when I started to sleep a full night and things started to improve.
“I spoke to my clinic about the improved therapy with the comfort accessories, and they asked if I could get some for their other patients. This was really the start of Hope2Sleep.”
Hope2Sleep has now been running for seven years and has brought together more than 8,000 fellow OSA sufferers. “We bring them together and offer support,” Ms Hope says. “They don’t need it every day but we’re there 24 hours a day.
Hope2Sleep is about giving advice to others via tips and sometimes products, which many people need to get the safe, comfortable sleep they deserve.”
As a sufferer of sleep apnoea, Ms Hope feels passionately that finding the right CPAP equipment is key to managing OSA
Additionally she has found that the people she helps often see an overnight improvement with CPAP therapy. “They wake up the next morning and feel as though a fog has lifted,” she says. “For the other 50 per cent of people, it’s a gradual improvement. It may be that blood pressure decreases, or pain is reduced in conditions such as fibromyalgia. Asthma and diabetes normally improve too.”
Anwen Evans is the clinical services manager of Philips’ sleep and respiratory care business and is an expert in CPAP technology.
“The therapy involves wearing a mask that’s attached to a device with a blower in it. This introduces pressurised air along the airway and acts as a mechanical splint to prevent it closing,” she says.
While CPAP is proved to reduce snoring and overall quality of sleep, Ms Evans says that it can only be successful if the treatment is made as comfortable as possible.
“Wearing a mask on your face while sleeping is not a natural feeling, so Philips has spent a lot of time producing masks that are light and leave less of a facial imprint,” she says.
“Over the past 12 months we’ve developed a mask that is so minimal that you can wear glasses with it in bed and read – it’s as unobtrusive as possible. The latest Philips CPAP machine, DreamStation, also now looks far more like a bedside alarm clock than a medical device, and is really small and quiet. You can even pop it into an overnight case when you travel.”