Interestingly, snoring is ubiquitously seen as a sign of deep sleep. To the contrary, it may be a sign of an unhealthy alertness. A good case is that of my friend Akan, who was recently diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). For those who have slept beside some snorers, it’s easy to put OSA into perspective. It occurs when people inhale in sleep, and hold their breath for 10 seconds or more. Then, moments of ‘golden’ silence ensue. Initially you question whether they are still alive. Then you nurse the optimism that the snoring had stopped. You also hold your breath, hoping that you can finally catch some sleep. Then!… they compensate by letting out these thunderous grunting sounds. You then realise that your dreams had literally been crushed.
The Akan said…Science said, aspects
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is a serious condition. For Akan, it means that during sleep, the walls of his throat relaxes and collapses to the point that it affects his normal breathing. He then has a total or partial blockage of his airway for 10 seconds or more (the silent moments). His body is then starved of oxygen, causing his brain to rouse him enough to inhale oxygen (the thunderous grunts). Since these interruptions occur several times during sleep, he is actually awake most of the time. Incredibly, like most people, Akan is not even aware of this state of brain alertness.
He told me that sleep apnoea causes him to snore loudly, due to the obstruction in his throat. He feels very tired during the day, because of interruptions to his sleep. He never feels refreshed after sleep. His concentration is impaired. He finds himself sleeping off without warning. He doesn’t drive anymore because he is afraid of causing accidents on the road (people with sleep apnoea are more likely to have road accidents than others). He is easily irritable and has also been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
I read on the British Thoracic Society and NHS websites, that ‘Not’ all snorers have sleep apnoea. Those at risk are mainly overweight men between 30 and 65. Other people at risk are men with large necks (collar necks greater than 17″). Alcohol intake before sleep and smoking are also among the risk factors listed. Due to possible lack of awareness, it is less common in women, although the risks increase with menopause. Children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids are also affected by sleep apnoea. Untreated OSA can increase the risks of road accidents, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Sleep apnoea is treatable. A change in lifestyle like losing weight and stopping smoking can help. Akan is currently being treated with Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP). He wears a mask over his nose and mouth, and a machine raises and regulates the pressure of the air he breaths in. This stops his airway from collapsing during sleep. There are other treatments available, such as surgery. It is for the doctor to decide.
Most people on the planet know a snorer or has heard someone snore (my fact!). If only babies could speak, I’m sure they would back me up on this one. Previously, I associated snoring with men, but nowadays I hear women literally roar like lions in their sleep. In fact, there is a ‘malicious’ rumour that I sometimes roar, although there’s no proof of that so far. Basically, snoring is disruptive to sleep. I know couples who sleep in separate rooms due to one partner snoring loudly. Personally, I can’t sleep if someone is snoring loudly near me.
I hope this post creates an awareness of the condition and highlights the importance of doing something about it. If someone you know shows signs of not breathing during sleep (for 10 secs or more); please encourage them to see the doctor. Show more empathy to the snorers you know. I’m still working on myself in that respect, a quest that seems gruntingly laboured at present. Silence I now know, is not always golden.
Listen to an expert view on OSA (courtesy of NHS Choices)
Click here for credits for the science bits, and more info on obstructive sleep apnoea.
Dedicated to a dear friend…AO