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Is Sleep Apnoea Worse in the Winter?

Sleep Apnoea

Is Sleep Apnoea Worse in the Winter?

If you suffer from sleep apnoea, you may have noticed that the symptoms appear more severe during the colder months of the year. Is there any validity to this observation? You might be surprised to learn that some studies have confirmed a relationship between the seasons and the severity of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). What have they found and are there any treatment options available?


The Notion of Seasonal Sleep Apnoea

We are all aware that common illnesses such as colds and sore throats are more prevalent during the winter months. This very same trend seems to hold true in regards to obstructive sleep apnoea. Clinics found that the number of individuals seeking treatment rose by six per cent during the winter. 

Additionally, the number of times per hour that individuals briefly stopped breathing likewise rose. This leads to an important question: why might your symptoms be more pronounced in the winter as opposed to the autumn, spring or summer?


Why Might Symptoms be Worse in the Winter?

The most obvious answer to this question involves illnesses associated with the upper respiratory tract such as the common cold. As your airway is more irritated, it only stands to reason that this irritation will worsen the symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnoea. Still, there could be other forces at play.

The condition of the air within your home could also play a very important role. As your windows are more likely to remain closed, any suspended particulate matter (such as dust or allergens) will linger for longer durations. This is even more relevant if you happen to use a wood-burning stove on a regular basis. Soot and smoke within the air will undoubtedly exacerbate the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea. 

The dryness of the air is yet another variable. Anyone who has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea is already aware that low levels of humidity can make the condition worse. 

Central heating and space heaters tend to pull moisture from the air; leading to an increase in the number of times that you stop breathing each night. Some other factors which might contribute to seasonal sleep apnoea can include:

  • A higher sensitivity to pain due to increased barometric pressure.
  • Lower levels of vitamin D as a result of fewer hours of sunlight.
  • Potentially higher levels of carbon monoxide (1).
  • More severe snoring sessions.

There is no doubt that all of the factors mentioned above can play a very real role in regards to the frequency and symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnoea. However, might other variables exert just as profound of an influence?


Are There Any Other Variables to Consider?

It should be mentioned that the frequency of OSA symptoms in winter is only slightly higher compared to other times of the year. We must also point out that there is a high likelihood of what is known as the “compounding effect”. 

You see, preexisting conditions such as obesity or poor health could simply exacerbate all the situations we’ve discussed here.  

Also, many individuals are more likely to seek the advice of a doctor over the winter months as the result of another illness such as a cold or the flu. Thus, the chances are higher that they will report any complaints associated with obstructive sleep apnoea during same visit in order to save time. 

Finally, anyone who is already feeling “under the weather” will naturally feel the effects of sleep apnoea to a greater degree. 

What Can You Do to Lessen the Impact of Seasonal Sleep Apnoea?

You will be pleased to learn that a handful of lifestyle changes can have a profound impact upon how you deal with obstructive sleep apnoea during the winter months. 

One useful suggestion involves trying to get as much sun as possible as opposed to remaining indoors all day. Head to a local park for lunch (if the weather permits). Work close to a window when appropriate. If it is cold and snowy, why not take advantage of the weather and do some skiing or snowboarding.

Always remember that direct sunlight will enable your body to produce more vitamin D and it also improves your mood, leading to a more rejuvenating night of sleep. 

The second suggestion involves how you heat your home. Try to avoid overheating the bedroom, particularly in the evening. Drier air will inevitably worsen the symptoms of your obstructive sleep apnoea. If you still require more heat to sleep, consider purchasing a humidifier to enhance the moisture content of the air. 

If the suggestions mentioned above have little to no impact upon your symptoms, it is wise to speak with a physician or a sleep specialist. You might require an adjustment in your treatment. The chances are high that he or she will be able to provide you with additional options in order to reduce the overall effects. 


Why Should You Get Tested?

The bulk of this article has been written for those who suspect that the symptoms of their obstructive sleep apnoea are worse during the winter months. 

However, what if you have only recently discovered that you are suffering from this condition? It would only make sense that many individuals begin to notice problems when the weather turns inclement. Unfortunately, obstructive sleep apnoea will not simply go away on its own. You need to seek treatment in order to determine the most appropriate solution.

The first step begins with an at-home sleep test. These examinations are extremely straightforward and they will provide accurate results. The results can then be used as a means to determine the severity of your condition as well as the available treatment options. 

There is no reason why you should continue to suffer during the winter when there are a host of possible remedies at your disposal. One of the most powerful and effective methods involves the use of a CPAP machine. 


Treatment Options for Any Time of the Year

CPAP is simply an abbreviation for “continuous positive airway pressure”. These machines employ the use of a comfortable mask that is affixed over your mouth and nose during the overnight hours. Their primary intention is to augment the existing air pressure so that it is easier to breathe. 

In other words, your airways are less likely to collapse while sleeping. The majority of CPAP machines are highly effective and the chances are high that you will experience results within a relatively short period of time. 

Please note that some units are capable of providing humidified air; ideal if your home tends to be dry during the winter. Thanks to modern technology, CPAP machines are quite comfortable and their motors are extremely quiet.

While the effects of obstructive sleep apnoea are often more severe during the winter, the fact of the matter is that this condition can dramatically affect your health throughout the year. If you would like to learn about targeted treatment options, make it a point to speak with a sleep specialist as soon as possible. 

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About author: Helen Clarkson is a Sleep Specialist at Baywater Healthcare. Ms. Clarkson has worked with Baywater since 2008, working closely with patients in delivering sleep/bi-level services including sleep and respiratory, both in the home and clinic setting. This includes therapy initiation and troubleshooting support. Ms. Clarkson is responsible for delivering the Baywater Healthcare patient adherence management programme to ensure continuing patient therapy compliance. works in conjunction with NHS clinicians and procurement to deliver excellence in home and clinic-based services. She provides training on all aspects of sleep including devices and interfaces. Previously, Ms. Clarkson served as Respiratory Physiologist at Pontefract General Infirmary. Her position was Senior MTO for lung function/sleep department, and she was responsible for performing simple and complex sleep studies, sleep study analysis, CPAP initiation, therapy adherence and troubleshooting/service clinics, spirometry, lung volumes and transfer factor, reversibility, CPET, hyperventilation testing, EIA testing, skin prick testing, 6 min walk tests. She has also held roles as Respiratory Physiologist and Respiratory Technician, working closely with patients with respiratory disorders -- including ex-miners. Ms. Clarkson has a BSc (Honors) in Applied biology from University of Staffordshire. She also studied Developments in Sleep Medicine (advanced course) at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and took the Edinburgh Sleep Medicine course. She completed the BSS: Advanced sleep course and the ARTP NIV Course.

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