Overweight? Tired during the day? Consider getting tested for sleep apnoea

Common sleep disorder could lead to impaired functioning

A good night’s restful sleep is essential to feeling alert and getting the most out of your day. For those suffering from sleep apnoea, however, a full eight hours of sleep may leave them feeling exhausted and unable to meet the demands of the coming day, every day.

“The problem is that many people are unaware that they have this most common sleep disorder, particularly if they sleep alone. This is because, whilst asleep, the sufferer does not usually realise that they intermittently stop breathing, thereby interrupting their sleep many times during the night,” explains Dr Nadir Kana, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon practicing at Netcare Mulbarton Hospital’s recently opened sleep study unit.

Possible symptoms of sleep apnoea include snoring, especially with recurrent episodes of breathing interruption, weight gain, daytime sleepiness, hypertension, irritability, clumsiness, heart rhythm abnormalities (cardiac arrhythmia), headaches and, for men, impotence. The condition is more common in people who are obese.

“During deep sleep, the muscles in the airway of a person suffering from sleep apnoea relax to such an extent that the airway becomes blocked. The person’s air supply may be cut off for several seconds, causing oxygen levels in the blood to drop. The person often wakes up gasping for air, but they will often fall asleep again quite quickly and not remember these episodes. Even though the person may be getting sufficient hours of sleep, the quality of the sleep is poor from these interruptions and is therefore not restful,” Dr Kana notes.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of adequate quality sleep for the optimum functioning of the body and mind. While the mechanisms at play are not fully understood, lack of good quality sleep has been linked to poor memory, difficulty maintaining concentration, and a weakened immune system, among other potential health problems.

“South Africa is one of the most obese nations in the world and, as sleep apnoea is often linked to obesity, I believe the prevalence of undiagnosed sleep apnoea is immense. This not only has consequences for the individual, but also for their employer and, at a macro-economic level, for the economy,” Dr Kana observes.

“At individual level, aside from the unpleasant side effects and possible co-morbidities of hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia for example, sleep apnoea could have significant implications for driver safety as cognitive functioning is impaired. In addition, lack of sleep can lead to irritability and depression, and a number of implications for work and social functioning,” he elaborates.

“It is therefore a major concern that sleep apnoea may be taking a toll on our economy through lost productivity. In the United States, approximately 10 percent of the population have been tested for sleep apnoea, but in South Africa we are lagging far behind, as only around 1 percent of our population have been tested for this relatively common condition.”

In order to accurately diagnose this condition, people who suspect that they may be suffering from sleep apnoea should have their sleep patterns monitored and assessed by a trained medical professional. The recently opened sleep study unit at Netcare Mulbarton Hospital, south of Johannesburg, extends the footprint of sleep laboratory facilities offered at a number of Netcare hospitals. Contact your nearest Netcare hospital to enquire about the sleep laboratory nearest to you.


Dr Kana explains that the tests performed at the sleep study unit do not only confirm whether a patient is experiencing sleep apnoea, but also gauge the stage and severity thereof, and establish which treatment options would be most appropriate for the patient.


“The process for sleep apnoea testing is non-invasive. It monitors breathing, brain waves, the electrical activity of the heart, the oxygenation levels in the patient’s body and their body position. The test is performed overnight. The patient arrives in the evening and all they are required to do is sleep,” he says.

The sleep study unit at Netcare Mulbarton was purpose built to be conducive to sleep. “Each patient has their own individual glass-enclosed room, allowing nursing staff to observe them without disturbing their sleep. There is none of the usual activities associated with a hospital environment, such as being awoken for medication or to check vitals through the night, and the room is sound-proofed.”

The medical professionals practising at the Netcare Mulbarton Hospital sleep study unit, also referred to as the ‘sleep laboratory’, include ENT surgeon Dr Kana, neurologists and physicians, and the services of a pulmonologist are also available.

“There are a number of treatment options available for sleep apnoea, depending on its severity and what is most appropriate for the individual. It can be treated through surgical procedures, or the use of a mask attached to a continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) machine, which blows air into the patient’s mouth and nose preventing the collapse of their throat during sleep. Some patients find relief with oral devices that pull the tongue forward during sleep to keep the airway open,” he says.

“Asobesity, smoking, and alcohol use are among the risk factors for sleep apnoea, these are some of the aspects people affected with this medical condition are advised to address.”

General manager of Netcare Mulbarton Hospital, Nellie Koen, welcomed the opening of sleep study unit at the hospital. “For those who have been bearing the burden of sleep apnoea’s effects without realising the cause, the new sleep study unit could assist them to a achieve better quality of life for years to come,” she concluded.