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Royal Brompton Centre for Sleep

Sleep disorders

Dr Anita Simonds helping a patient into a sleep mask

Sleep apnoea

We have extensive experience in caring for patients with sleep apnoea and care for over 7,000 patients who use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy at home.

Around four per cent of men and two per cent of women suffer from sleep apnoea. Many are undiagnosed and there are limited sleep laboratory facilities in the UK, so there is much work to be done.


Sleep apnoea is caused by upper airway collapse during sleep; patients literally stop breathing, although for such a short amount of time that they don’t usually wake up. The poor quality of sleep experienced then puts them at risk the following day; unaware that they have had so little undisturbed sleep, they drive, operate machinery and conduct various other activities under conditions of near sleep deprivation.


At the Royal Brompton Centre for Sleep, the team uses the latest equipment and can monitor progress remotely using smart cards in the devices, which is more convenient and reduces hospital visits.


CPAP quickly reverses the effects of obstructive sleep apnoea, so that sleep quality improves, daytime energy levels increase and adverse health consequences are minimised.


Our service is fully comprehensive for NHS and private patients who are provided with long-term telephone and email access to the team for:

  • ongoing advice

  • rapid response clinic appointments

  • servicing and repair of equipment

Watch the video:


With thanks to The Wellcome Trust

Poor quality of sleep

Erratic breathing is also associated with swings in blood pressure and heart rate, which may contribute to heart disease, stroke and metabolic conditions, such as diabetes. It is often the partners of patients who notice the problem first.


Loud snoring is usually present in sleep apnoea and, in addition to the obvious disturbance that this can cause, partners are often aware of short breaks in snoring when breathing appears to stop (apnoeas).


The good news is that we can treat the condition effectively. Initially a sleep study takes place – a patient spends the night in our sleep laboratory at Royal Brompton or Harefield hospitals, or takes one of our portable sleep study monitors home.


By tracking breathing throughout the night, we are able to diagnose the problem simply and quickly. One of the most frequently used and successful treatment methods for moderate and severe sleep apnoea is CPAP."


Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

CPAP machines deliver air via a lightweight mask throughout the night. The air is gently pressurised and so keeps the airways open at all times. Although patients are sometimes daunted by the idea of sleeping in a mask, they soon get used to it and outcomes are extremely good.


Their partners are usually grateful too – by ensuring the airways do not become obstructed, the snoring promptly stops! Milder cases respond to weight loss or a dental splint (mandibular advancement splint) that simply fits over the teeth at night.


CPAP machines have also been used successfully in small children who suffer from breathing problems due to conditions such as craniofacial disorders, floppy muscles, obesity or Down’s syndrome.


A key new development is that sleep-disordered breathing is now implicated in the progression of heart failure. A current research project in the unit, in conjunction with cardiologists, has shown that sleep apnoea (predominantly central sleep apnoea) occurs in 40 per cent of individuals with mild heart failure. This opens up exciting new avenues of non-pharmacological (drug-based) therapy.


Help for patients at home

One of the other major areas of work undertaken at Royal Brompton Hospital is domiciliary ventilation; we are the largest European centre providing this service and take referrals from right across the country.


For adults and children with neuromuscular and chest wall conditions such as muscular dystrophy and curvature of the spine, the outlook was bleak until relatively recently. Non-invasive ventilation using small portable ventilators at night, extends survival, reduces hospital admissions and improves quality of life.


Even in common disorders such as chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), non-invasive ventilation can be used to improve the outcome from acute infections. 


We are currently exploring new types of ventilator which may be easier to use for patients with problems such as motor neurone disease.


Read a patient's account of what it is like coming in for a sleep study.

Royal Brompton

Sydney Street,
London SW3 6NP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7352 8121


Read more about the Royal Brompton Centre for Sleep
Watch our videos for healthcare professionals about diagnosing and treating sleep disordered breathing

Featured in the press

Dr Alanna Hare, consultant in respiratory and sleep medicine, was interviewed by Delicious magazine about how certain food groups may help people to sleep. Dr Hare explained: “There is some literature that suggests consuming foodstuffs high in tryptophan or melatonin may increase sleep duration and quality.” However, she stressed that there’s limited clinical evidence, adding: “Overall, the extent to which diet and nutrients can boost sleep remains unclear.”

With thanks to Delicious magazine.