Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is very common in Australia, affecting 10% of females and 25% of males. The disorder occurs much more frequently than this in older adults and can significantly compromise quality of life. Given the prevalence of this disorder, and its consequences, it is worrying that up to 80% of sufferers are never diagnosed. A recent study in the Sleep Medicine journal interviewed 1,300 people to find out that only one in five were aware of OSA, while only one in ten were able to define it.
OSA is a serious disorder where breathing is continually interrupted during sleep. During sleep, recurrent episodes of collapse of the airway at the back of throat, cause reduction in air flow, and sometimes even complete obstruction of breathing. This can cause, in turn, reduced levels of oxygen and disturbance of sleep quality. Some of the common symptoms of OSA include snoring, daytime sleepiness, poor memory and concentration and mood behaviour changes. Effects of untreated OSA may include high blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes, depression and an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
Because awareness and knowledge of OSA among the general population is currently poor, Australia’s Department of Health is putting OSA on the table as their next major health education campaign. Over the past few decades the Department of Health has focussed on two “pillars” that support a healthy life: exercise and nutrition. Sleep is now recognised by this government department as the third pillar of good health. This recognition is not only because of the substantial benefits associated with good sleep, and the risks associated with poor sleep, but also because of the significant economic costs of poor sleep and sleep disorders. But that’s another story.