Not sleeping night after night beside a snoring partner brings out heinous thoughts in many of us. In any other life circumstance, most of us would never resort to kicking, prodding, pushing or wanting to smother (temporarily) our rumbling bed mate. As teeth grinding-ly frustrating it is, it is not our sleep we should be concerned about, but theirs.
While snoring is a pain in one’s drowsy ears, the source of your partner’s snoring may be a sign to get your life insurance and estate planning in order. Then it’s time to book in an appointment with your doctor.
I ran into an old work colleague of mine, Tony, some time ago now. This was a man that you would describe as a likable, but portly workaholic. He always seemed short of breath and he looked tired.
I almost didn’t recognise him. He had gone from portly to average. What really stood out, is that his often red and bustling demeanor was one of a more calming blue. I couldn’t help but blurt out my compliments, so marked was the change.
“Obstructive sleep apnoea was slowly killing me,” he explained.
The only reason I discovered that I was suffering from life-threatening sleep apnoea, was because my life partner of 25 years told me she’d had enough and threatened to leave me if I didn’t book a doctor’s appointment within the next 24 hours. I’ve never looked back. I feel better than I have in over a decade. I’ve lost weight, I’ve got more energy and [my partner] is giving our relationship another chance. – Tony, 51.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy transformed his life, and he had no idea it was even possible to do so.
What is sleep apnoea?
It is not the decibel breaking snort that is concerning when your partner is rattling the night away, it is those occasional lack of breaths in-between that can be concerning. In medical research snoring and sleep apnoea have been linked with serious health concerns.
Snoring isn’t always apnoea. Snoring can be caused by something more temporary, like a big night on the grain or grape or a blocked nose. In this case, the rattle of air through airways is caused by slight airway narrowing. Occasional snoring is rarely cause for concern.
Sleep apnoea is a condition where people regularly stop taking breaths when they’re sleeping. It is caused by serious narrowing of your airways, or complete collapse. This is referred to as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA always requires medical treatment for short to long term health benefits, and in some cases, treatment can literally be lifesaving.
“Hark, how hard he fetches breath.”
― William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 1
There is a lot of research available that links OSA to hypertension, obesity, and other chronic health conditions.
A 2018 study published by nature.com concluded that individuals with a moderate-to-severe OSA (we’ll talk about how that rating is assessed in the next section) had a higher risk of progressive arterial stiffness which may contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Importantly, the subjects of this study were intentionally chosen so that other causes were minimised – the subjects did not have hypertension or obesity at the time of the study.
If you need further evidence that repeated lack of oxygen night after night causes health concerns, you’ll find study after study in Google Scholar searches.
How is sleep apnoea measured?
Once you threaten to leave your partner and they finally book in an appointment to see their doctor, they will most likely be referred to a sleep specialist centre. Sleep centres can measure and monitor your partner’s heart rate, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs while you’re sleeping.
Apnoea means that during monitoring, you stopped breathing completely for at least 10 seconds. The sleep specialist will calculate how many times an hour you stop breathing.
If you stop breathing completely, or partially, 15 to 29 times in an hour, your doctor will give you a diagnosis of ‘moderate sleep apnoea’. If the rate is more like 30 plus times per hour the diagnosis will be ‘severe sleep apnoea’. These are results you need to act on for your health, wellbeing and to give your partner peace of mind that you care enough about yourself and them to do something about it!
How is moderate to severe sleep apnoea treated?
Depending on the severity of your diagnosis, there are several treatments that a qualified medical practitioner will recommend.
General health and fitness improvements
In many cases, improving health and fitness can help to reduce the obstruction of your airways – particularly in milder cases of OSA. These recommendations may include:
- A fitness and nutrition program to help you reduce weight
- Reducing smoking and alcohol intake
- Changing your sleeping position.
Breathing support via a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine
Yes, it is as romantic as it sounds, but it could transform your lives. The CPAP machine is a mask you wear over your nose and mouth that pushes air into your throat to help open airways, so you can breathe more easily and regularly.
It is not an easy machine to get used to, and from the data available online, it is common for many people give up before they start getting the benefits of regular breathing. Those benefits include improved sleep, less daytime fatigue, improved metabolic rate, reduced risk of developing cardiovascular concerns.
Ah, the romance is well and truly a characteristic of OSA treatments. Tongue exercises may help in milder cases of OSA. This tongue yoga is referred to as myofunctional therapy.
A 2018 systematic review of subjective patient questionnaires and objective sleep studies (by Camacho, M., Guilleminault, C., Wei, J.M. et al. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol (2018) 275: 849. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00405-017-4848-5) demonstrated that myofunctional therapy has reduced snoring in some adults.
There are several YouTube videos available online like this one, Myofunctional tongue exercises from Dr. Rist Hurme, DDS that may make for great entertainment for your next dinner party! But on a serious note, while this treatment is newer in application, it seems to make good logical sense.
A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.
– Terry Pratchett
The Conversation Health Check: here’s what you need to know about sleep apnoea
SBS Life Should you worry about your snoring?