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Monday, 4 October, 1999, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Snoring costs partner hours of sleep

A night's sleep is difficult when a partner has sleep apnoea
The partners of people with a common disorder lose an hour's sleep a night because of their snoring, scientists have discovered.

Sleep apnoea is a condition in which the airways becomes obstructed during sleep, causing the sufferer first to snore loudly, then stop breathing for a few seconds, then to start snoring again with a start.

Although snoring itself is often treated as simply a nuisance rather than a serious medical complaint, sleep apnoea is potentially dangerous, as the oxygen deprivation can cause low blood pressure - and the body's catching up effort strains the cardiovascular system.

However, the latest research from the US shows that the strange breathing patterns and loud snoring associated with the condition costs sleeping partners on average an hour a night.

Investigators studied 10 married couples and wired them up to devices measuring heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and blood oxygen levels.

Mask helps the condition

Midway through their one-night experiment, the apnoea sufferer put a mask over the nose through which air is supplied under slightly increased pressure.

This is known to improve snoring by keeping the airway open.

They found that, prior to the mask being put on, two-fifths of events which woke up the partner were snoring related. With the mask, sleep disturbances fell by the same figure.

Dr John Shepard, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Centre, who authored the study, said: "The average percentage of time that spouses spent sleeping increased from 74% to 875, which adds more than an extra hour of sleep per night."

He said that partners should be able to spot the "distinctive snoring pattern" associated with sleep apnoea.

"You snore so loudly that you can be heard in the next room, but then you suddenly stop breathing to the point that it frightens them, and then you suddenly resume breathing witha snort or a choking sound."

Many suffer from the problem

Obstructive sleep apnoea is thought to affect approximately four percent of women and nine percent of men between the ages of 30 and 60 years.

Professor Neil Douglas, an expert on sleep and respiratory medicine at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh has just completed his own study of the effects of apnoea on sleeping partners, which is awaiting publication.

He said that treatment for apnoea usually helped two people, not just the sufferer.

"A lot of people will have the condition, and some doctors simply don't recognise how serious it is."

Studies have shown that people with sleep apnoea are so fatigued during the daytime that when driving, their performance is similar to that of a drunk driver.

Surgery for sleep apnoea is not generally effective.

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See also:

18 Jun 99 | Health
Step forward in snore war
18 Mar 99 | Health
Sleep disorder causes car crashes
23 Mar 99 | Health
Scientists solve snoring riddle
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