Do you have sleep apnoea? These are the symptoms and warning signs

Welcome to Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, where we’re taking a deep-dive into one of the most important (and elusive) factors in our day-to-day lives: sleep. To help us understand more about it, we’re inviting women to track their bedtime routines over a five-day period – and presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 35-year-old office manager wonders whether there is more to her night-time snoring than meets the eye.


Age: 35

Occupation: office manager

Number of hours sleep you get each night:

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: not yet

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no

How much water you drink on average per day: 2 litres

How much exercise I do on average per week: 10,000 steps a day (plus two workouts per week)


I wake up in the middle of the night to my partner shaking my shoulder gently; apparently, I’ve been snoring again – and making choking noises. I wonder if it might be because the room is too stuffy, so I open a window, down some water, and try to drift off again. When we wake up to our 7am alarm in the morning, she tells me she had to roll me onto my side in the night when I started making “loud spluttering noises,” and I resolve to buy some nasal strips today; it’s not fair that I’m keeping her up.

We have banana porridge and tea together, before I head off to work. It’s a busy day, but I break for lunch and walk to the pharmacy to buy the nasal strips. I actually feel quite embarrassed picking them up, but I don’t know why.

Sleep Diaries: I walk to the pharmacy and buy some nasal strips for my snoring.

I make sure to drink lots of water in the day, then head home at 6pm. I change and go for a run as soon as I get in, then head home to cook up a vegetarian curry for me and my partner. We eat it and watch a few episodes of Netflix’s Clickbait (it’s terrible, but we’re addicted). I go and have a bath with a bit of lavender oil while she reads, then we head to bed together at 11pm. 

I fall asleep quickly, nasal strip in place, but she wakes me up – far more politely than I deserve – a few times in the night to tell me that I’m snoring and making weird choking noises again. 

Not sure what to do about this – maybe it’s time to see a doctor?    


I hop out of bed with my alarm at 7am, ignore my pounding headache, make us both some honey toast, then listen to the news while eating and drinking coffee. I get to work a little later than intended due to traffic, so wind up working through lunch to make up the hours (don’t worry: I have my curried chickpea sandwich and Twirl bar al desko).

I meet up with a few friends after work for drinks, and get home around 8pm. I heat up some leftover curry, then sit with it on the couch while I watch Legally Blonde for the millionth time. My partner gets in around 10pm (she’s a bridesmaid in an upcoming wedding, and she’s been busy helping out with the organisation), and we sit and chat for a bit before heading to bed at 11pm.

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I try a nasal strip again, not feeling too hopeful, and once again my poor partner has to wake me up a few times in the night. She tells me she’s worried about me as it sounds at one point as if I’m holding my breath for ages. I’ll have to google this tomorrow.


Once again, I’m up at 7am with a terrible headache – and I feel exhausted, too, but I don’t say anything as I feel terrible for keeping my partner up. We have a quiet breakfast together (Coco Pops, don’t say a word) and then split off to go to work.

It’s not too busy today, so I make a point of googling my snoring issues after my lunchtime walk. I know, I know – Google isn’t the answer. Still, I can’t help but be intrigued by all the articles I’m shown about ‘sleep apnoea’. Could this really be what’s wrong?

When I get home, I have a steamy shower before cooking dinner: Quorn sausages, mash potato, peas and gravy. We sit at the table for a change and chat about our days; my partner is a little frazzled with work stress, so I do my best to make her laugh with a series of cheesy jokes. It works better than expected, and we end up in bed far earlier than usual, but stay up until gone 11pm chatting.

Sleep Diaries: We go to bed earlier than usual, but stay up chatting for hours.

I stick a nasal strip on (hey, I paid for the useless things!) and fall asleep as soon as the lights are out. Once again, my poor partner has to shake me awake a few times in the night because she’s worried I’m choking to death. This is a nightmare.


We’re up at 7am as usual, and we treat ourselves to another bowl of Coco Pops. My head is pounding so I down a few glasses of water before doing a few yoga stretches.

Work is quiet again, so I make sure I go for a good long walk at lunch – and that I have a bowl of veggie soup and a glass of OJ to ramp up my vitamin intake. I finish in good time, head home, and try a meditation video: I feel a bit self-conscious doing it, but I eventually relax.

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My partner whips us up a mushroom risotto, which we eat at the table again (although, cards on the table, we have the TV on at the same time). Then, she heads off to Zoom her friends, and I take myself on a walk: it’s a nice evening, and I use the time to phone my sister as I do so.

When I get back, I have a banana, read for a bit, then head up to bed. Again, I try the nasal strip. My partner comes to bed later than me and wakes me up when she arrives, telling me she could hear my snoring from the other side of the flat. Not sure what I can do at this point.


We’re up at 7am again and soon tucking into a bowl of Weetabix. I pop a few paracetamol for my headache, drink some water, then head off to work. 

Despite feeling embarrassed, I make sure to go to the pharmacist at lunch to ask their advice about the snoring. They suggest trying a special throat spray, which they tell me works by toning and lubricating the soft tissue at the back of the throat to reduce these vibrations. They also, though, suggest I see my GP, especially because of the choking sounds. I’ll give this a go first, I think.

I finish work early and meet up with a friend to go to the cinema, despite the fact there’s barely anything that’s worth watching. We get popcorn and big fizzy drinks to make a night of it, and we head out for dinner afterwards to discuss the film in detail: I order a glass (or two) of wine with my pizza, and she does the same.

I head home late and find my partner watching Clickbait without me – the betrayal! After I’ve gotten over this, I make us both a hot chocolate and we snuggle down to watch the finale together. It’s bonkers, naturally, and this means we stay up ages talking about it and trying to figure out if it was good or terrible.

We’re not in bed until gone 2am, but I still use the throat spray. I wake up around 11am and find my partner has slipped off to sleep on the couch; it seems my snoring and choking was worse than ever. What can I do about this? I feel awful!


Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “Much like your partner, I am concerned about your snoring and breathing at night, which could be causing your headaches. Snoring can be caused by excessive weight around the middle, lack of exercise and dehydration, and it is also worsened by caffeine and alcohol, but none of these seem to be relevant to your case.

“As you have tried your best to manage it proactively with the nasal strips and throat spray, I now recommend you go to your GP to obtain a referral for a sleep apnoea (the term used for when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep) investigation.

“As per the NHS guidelines, the primary symptoms of sleep apnoea include:

  • breathing stopping and starting
  • making gasping, snorting or choking noises
  • waking up a lot
  • loud snoring

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “During the day, you may also:

  • feel very tired
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have mood swings
  • have a headache when you wake up

“If your GP thinks you might have sleep apnoea, they may refer you to a specialist sleep clinic for tests. And, if it turns out that you do suffer from this, don’t worry; it does not always need to be treated if it’s mild.”

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Dr Nerina finishes: “Alternatively, your doctor may decide that using a CPAP machine – a device which gently pumps air into a mask you wear over your mouth or nose while you sleep at night – could be a solution.

“It might seem drastic, but it could be life changing for you and your partner. 

“Good luck!”

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at [email protected] with ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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