What Nurses Need to Know About Sleep Disorders

If you are training to become a nurse and have chose the area of sleep disorders. There are education courses that can help you train to fulfill your role In OSAHS identification and treatment.

Nurses and Snoring

Resources for Nurses to Help Control Sleep Disorders

Obstructive Sleep Apnea / Hypopnea Syndrome (OSAHS) is one of several sleep disorders nurses may encounter surprisingly frequently. 

Sleep apnea is a dangerous medical condition that causes breathing to stop during sleep.  The word “apnea” describes a 10-second pause in breathing. 

A “hypopnea” is a little different. During a hypopnea, breathing continues but ventilation decreases by at least 50 percent.

Obstructive sleep apnea causes excessive daytime fatigue that may interfere with cognitive function. Some statistics suggest around 20 percent of major highway accidents may be caused by the condition. It has been linked to accidents in the workplace as well.

Why Sleep Apneas Happen

During sleep, the throat muscles relax. This narrows the airway. This is not a problem for most people.

However, the narrowing of the airway can cause turbulence that makes some people start to snore. People who are overweight or middle-aged can be especially susceptible to this problem.

This narrowing of the airway that causes some people to snore may also cause sleep apnea or hypopnoea in certain individuals.

When this occurs, it deprives the body of oxygen and, after 20-60 seconds, the brain reacts by moving the body into a lighter sleep phase or waking it up. Either action can restore normal muscle tone and respiration.

Unfortunately, when the body is roused from deep sleep in either way, it can cause daytime fatigue and other undesirable problems.

The Role Nurses Play In OSAHS Identification and Treatment

Sleep apnea treatments, such as CPAP, generally begin when people who have the condition visit their doctor and seek advice. However, sometimes community nurses detect the problem during home visits or surgery appointments.

Many times, nurses become aware there is a problem when they notice their patients are unusually tired or stressed. Nor is it uncommon for people with sleep disorders to turn to their nurses for advice.

It’s not always the affected individual who brings up the subject while talking to their nurse. Sometimes their partner mentions it.

It may be that the partner is tired of all the loud snoring keeping them from sleep.

However,   some people turn to nurses for advice because they have noticed their partner is having breathing difficulties during sleep. Needless to say, this can be a cause of great worry.

Excessive daytime sleepiness, caused by sleep apnea or other sleeping disorders, can place a strain on relationships and will also affect other areas of the lives of all the people involved.


Nurses need to be aware of these additional ramifications and be extra sensitive when they are offering support.

Nurses working in hospitals or sleep clinics have the opportunity to monitor their patients during sleep.

When their checks make them suspect a sleep disorder they can then keep an eye out for unusual waking or snoring patterns that may help expose the underlying problem, be it sleep apnea or something else.

Due to their knowledge of the condition and familiarity with their patients, nurses can also help alleviate some of the stress surrounding overnight hospital stays.

For example, some people may worry about taking their CPAP machine to the hospital with them. Possibly because they worry it will keep other patients awake or believe it may be a nuisance beside their bed.

When nurses are aware of concerns of this nature they can explain these things are not so and help their patients put the problem to bed.

Nurses also often provide patients with help and advice about the best way to use their CPAP machine to control their condition at home.

They can get a better understanding of the situation by:

  • Asking appropriate questions
  • Offering advice on lifestyle choices
  • Observing sleep patterns
  • Assisting with symptom management
  • Offering tailored advice

Identifying Other Sleep Disorders and Conditions

Nurses may also be the first people to identify other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. This is a rare but unpleasant condition that causes excessive sleepiness during the day.

Unlike OSAHS, narcolepsy is a neurological condition. It does not have a physical cause. However, it still causes an intrusion of REM sleep that rouses the affected individual from sleep.

Other narcolepsy symptoms, which a nurse may be the first to identify, include:

  • Cataplexy/muscle weakness
  • Hallucinations
  • Excessive tiredness

Although OSAHS is generally a condition that affects older individuals, narcolepsy often affects the young, sometimes making its first appearance during the teenage years.

Although there is no cure for narcolepsy, the symptoms can be managed quite successfully using modern drugs and nurses often have the task of ascertaining how well their patients respond.