How is obstructive sleep apnoea diagnosed

You should consult your General Practitioner (GP) if you have any of the following main symptoms of sleep apnoea:

  • your breathing stops and starts while you sleep
  • you make gasping, snorting or choking noises while you sleep
  • you always feel very tired during the day

Sleep apnoea can be serious if it is not diagnosed and treated.

If your GP thinks you might have sleep apnoea, they will refer you to a specialist sleep clinic for tests. If someone else has witnessed your symptoms, it can help to take them with you to this appointment.

Your GP should prioritise you for rapid assessment by a sleep service if any of the following apply, so ensure you let your GP know if this is the case:

  • you have a vocational driving job DVLA advice
  • you have a job for which vigilance is critical for safety
  •  you have unstable cardiovascular disease
  •  you are pregnant you are undergoing preoperative assessment for major surgery.

It is always good to prepare for your doctor’s appointment. Download a copy of this checklist for first visit.


At the clinic, you will be asked questions about your sleep quality and how this affects the way you feel and function during the day.  It is likely that you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), which is intended to measure daytime sleepiness using a very short questionnaire.  You can fill this in below and take your score with you to your appointment. 

You may be asked to fill in the STOP-BANG Questionnaire, a tool that has been proven to be efficient in screening for OSA.  This will assess your sleep apnoea group, whether you belong to a low, moderate or high group.  The link above will take you to the STOP-BANG website, again you can take your result to your appointment.

You are most likely to be given a device to take home with you and asked to wear this overnight so doctors can check for signs of sleep apnoea.  This will indicate things like:

  • Snoring and body position
  • Oxygen level and heart rate
  • Apnoea-Hypopnoea Index (AHI) severity

The device can show if you have sleep apnoea and how severe it is based on how often your breathing stops, for 10 seconds or more, while you sleep (AHI score).

  • AHI of 5 to 14 – mild
  • AHI of 15 to 30 – moderate
  • AHI over 30 – severe

The clinic may decide that an overnight sleep study(Polysomnography or PSG) is more appropriate, especially if they are not sure what type of sleep disorder you have.

A PSG is a study done while you’re asleep. A technician will observe you as you sleep and record data about your sleep patterns.   The following are monitored to help chart your sleep cycles:

  • brain waves
  • skeletal muscle activity
  • blood oxygen levels
  • heart rate
  • breathing rate
  • eye movement

Observing your sleep cycles, along with your body’s reactions to the changes in these cycles, can help identify disruptions in your sleep patterns.

Once you have been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea the doctor will then recommend the appropriate treatment.

• you have unstable cardiovascular disease
• you are pregnant
• you are undergoing preoperative assessment for major surgery

Patient stories

Michael’s story 

“I have been using my Somnomed® device for about two years now. It has completely improved the quality of sleep that I get and consequently certain aspects of my life for the better.

On the rare occasion that I forget to put it in the device my sleep deteriorates immediately. It’s invaluable.” Read more

Liz’s story

“Having suffered jaw and tooth pain over several months and following several appointments with my GP and regular dentist to no avail, I asked April (dentist) if she could give me a second opinion. After careful consultation April suggested that sleep apnoea and teeth grinding might be behind the issues and recommended a Somnomed® device to wear at night. Read more

Simon’s story

“My name is Simon Wilsdon I am a general dentist in York with a special interest in dental sleep medicine. Over several years I have experienced mild sleep apnoea and, unfortunately for my wife, loud snoring. I have tried several different mandibular advancement devices over the years. These have given initial improvement but nothing long lasting and were uncomfortable over time. After investigating different options, I decided to give the new SomnoMed® Avant appliance a try. Read more

Mohammed’s story

Mohammed was diagnosed with Severe Sleep Apnoea in 2018.

“For the first year after my diagnosis, I had a CPAP machine in the home, but I really struggled with it, due to the anxiety of the mask being on my face all night. When I saw my Sleep Consultant, I was advised that I should not drive, and my driving license has now been revoked for more than 2 years. I have a family at home, with four children, so having no driving license has really affected our day-to-day lives. Little things like food shopping and trips out are much more difficult. Read more

Roy’s story

Like many people, l became aware that l was snoring during the night and feeling tired in the morning. This led me down the route of seeing my GP who felt l may have obstructive sleep apnoea and referred me to the hospital for further tests. There, l was given the Epworth Sleep Study questionnaire to complete which indicated l had daytime sleepiness but not severely. However further investigation was necessary and an overnight hospital stay was arranged where l had a sleep study conducted. Read more

Find out what our patients faced

Stories of how sleep apnoea affected their lives. 

How can we help?