Snoring and Sleep Apnoea – the facts

Health  |  By
Snoring is the subject of many a joke but can be far from a laughing matter. It can leave you feeling exhausted the next day due to poor quality sleep as well as ruin the sleep of a partner. And we are becoming more and more aware of the effects poor sleep can have on our health – dementia, heart disease, obesity and much more.

What causes it?

Well, it can be a feature of your anatomy – the shape of your mouth and nose. That can also be influenced by your weight – being just a few pounds over, especially if you carry your weight around the middle and neck, can increase your risk of snoring. It can also be due to smoking, drugs (illicit and prescribed) and alcohol. Plus, allergies, and nasal stuffiness can influence it too.

Understanding the cause (and it can be a combination) can help you reduce your risk by avoiding the avoidable risks like smoking and alcohol. Losing weight will reduce your snoring and help you sleep better – and that makes it easier to keep the weight off in return! And other causes such as allergies and your anatomy may potentially be improved by medication or special devices to help open your airways further.

Have you heard of sleep apnoea?

Waking up tired, or being told by your partner that you snore, or ʻtoss and turnʼ can all be signs of a much more serious sleep complaint – sleep apnoea.

People with sleep apnoea wake themselves up many times during the night, sometimes unaware, as they stop breathing temporarily and consequently are very tired during the day, often falling asleep in front of the TV. More than 1 in 50 people have sleep apnoea, 2/3rds are men…but the risk is increased 7 times if you are obese. Left untreated it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

People with sleep apnoea are less alert and show slower reaction times when driving. The effect can be worse than that of drinking alcohol over the drink-driving limit.

As a result, people with sleep apnoea are up to 5 times more likely to be in a car-crash from nodding off at the wheel. It can also affect productivity at work and the ability to make healthy choices. This means you can end up in a vicious circle:- the sleep apnoea caused by being overweight makes you reach for quick sugar and fat-filled energy boosts and leaves you too exhausted to exercise…..which increases your weight and your sleep apnoea even more.

If you recognise any of these symptoms of sleep apnoea or even just snoring that is causing sleep disturbance you should contact your GP. He or she can arrange tests for sleep apnoea or other causes of snoring – it can be treated and you will feel a lot better.

In the meantime, try to avoid alcohol, smoking, sleeping tablets and other sedatives, which can worsen sleep apnoea, and sleep on your side if possible. A ʻMandibular Advancement Deviceʼ, similar to a gum-shield (that is best fitted by a dentist) can sometimes help to hold your jaw and tongue forward and reduce symptoms.

For more severe sleep apnoea, a special mask will be prescribed to be worn at night to improve your breathing and therefore your sleep.

Once you are sleeping better you will find it much easier to tackle any other areas of your health that may be contributing to your poor sleep – and that downward spiral of poor sleep will soon reverse.

For more information on snoring check out the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association

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