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Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)

The most common signs of OSA are snoring, interrupted breathing while you’re asleep and feeling sleepy when you’re awake.

Have a look at the full list of symptoms below – not everyone with OSA will experience them all. Talk to your GP if you have a combination of daytime and night time symptoms.

Symptoms of OSA when asleep:

  • Snoring
  • Stopping breathing or struggling to breathe
  • Feeling of choking
  • Tossing and turning
  • Sudden jerky body movements
  • Needing to go to the toilet in the night

Sometimes your partner might be more aware of your snoring and pauses in your breathing than you are.

My wife said I stopped breathing at night and that my snoring could be heard downstairs.Greg

Symptoms of OSA when awake:

  • Waking up sleepy and unrefreshed
  • Headache in the morning
  • Difficulty concentrating and feeling groggy, dull and less alert
  • Poor memory
  • Feeling depressed, irritable or other changes of mood
  • Poor co-ordination 
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Heartburn


 If you are sleepy during the day, there is a risk you might fall asleep while driving.

Your doctor may advise you to stop driving if your sleepiness is likely to have an adverse effect on your driving, whatever the cause. If you are diagnosed with OSA and are excessively sleepy while you are driving, you will need to tell DVLA.

Why is it important to diagnose and treat OSA?

OSA can affect your quality of life. It can also lead to other health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. You’re more likely to have accidents at work and on the road. And your ability to work may be affected.

My get up and go had got up and gone.Peter

Who’s affected by OSA?

You’re more likely to have OSA if:

  • you are a man and middle aged
  • you are a woman past your menopause
  • you are a woman in the later stages of pregnancy. OSA symptoms often improve or disappear after your baby is born 
  • you are overweight or obese
  • you have a large neck size - 17 inches or more
  • you have a small airway, a set-back lower jaw or a small lower jaw, large tonsils, a large tongue or nasal blockage
  • you have a medical condition that makes some of these factors more likely such as Down’s syndrome

OSA can be made worse by drinking alcohol, using sleeping pills and smoking.

I snored very loudly, and I would stop breathing. It had a major effect on my ability to think clearly at work.Brenda

Next: Diagnosing OSA >

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Download our OSA information (PDF, 351KB)

Last medically reviewed: March 2019. Due for review: November 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.