You may not realise it, but your annoying nocturnal habits may be an indication that you’re suffering from a sleeping disorder. According to a 2005 survey, 75 per cent of adults struggle with at least one type of sleep disorder, such as chronic snoring, obstructive sleep apnoea and insomnia – and the trend is on the rise.
Says Dr Ignatius Mark Hon Wah, an ENT surgeon and director of sleep services at Ascent Ear Nose Throat Specialist Group: “On average, I see about 20 to 30 patients with sleep disorders in a week. Globally, sleep disorders are increasingly seen as a major public health concern in developed countries.” If you don’t seek treatment, says Dr Mark, these disorders won’t only rob you of quality
sleep, but also cost you your mental alertness and memory during your waking hours. On top of that, it can even lead to a wide range of health problems, including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart problems and stroke. Here’s how to tackle four undesirable sleeping habits head-on.
No, it isn’t the name of the latest flash-in-the-pan indie band. Obstructive sleep apnoea (or OSA) is a condition affecting thousands in Singapore. OSA is the cessation of airflow to your lungs while you sleep. It’s caused by a lack of muscle tone in your neck, which leads to your airway narrowing or collapsing as you inhale. Your brain will automatically wake you up by causing you to snore or snort, so you’ll start breathing again. Some people may experience these brief awakenings for up to 100 times a night, but they’ll probably not remember a thing about them.
Who it affects Studies report that about 15 per cent of Singaporeans suffer from sleep apnoea, and nearly 90 per cent of them are unaware of their nocturnal condition. OSA is most likely to affect middle-aged, overweight males with a collar size of 16.5 inches or more (although if you’ve got a bodybuilder’s physique, you may also be at risk).
Effects Waking up repeatedly during the night will cause sufferers to experience a whole range of symptoms, including daytime sleepiness, headaches, irritability, a short temper, forgetfulness, changes in mood and behaviour, anxiety, depression and even a decreased interest in sex. If left untreated, the long-term health implications include hypertension, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Treatment Luckily, treatment isn’t hard to come by. “Overweight patients are advised to go on a weight management programme,” says Dr Mark. “It can be treated with the use of a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure machine. Here, patients wear a small mask connected to the machine that blows room air at a positive pressure into the airway to stop it from collapsing (thereby causing the apnoea) and give the patient restful slumber,” he adds. In cases where obstructions, such as the tonsils, need to be removed, surgery may be recommended.
She has probably kicked you out of bed a dozen times because your snoring was driving her mad, but it seems like you just can’t help yourself. Well, here’s what you need to know: Snoring doesn’t automatically indicate sleep apnoea. Explains Dr Mark: “The latter is the sound that the upper airway generates when the tissues of the airway walls (in your mouth, nose and throat) partially collapse and vibrate. If there is adequate airflow during sleep, the snorer may not have OSA.”
Who it affects More than 40 per cent of adults suffer from snoring, of which about half are chronic snorers, say sleep experts. And it occurs more frequently in men and people who are overweight.
Effects If you’re a chronic snorer, you could also be setting yourself up for halitosis, headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol, says researchers at the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (BSSA). “Blood pressure rises on every snore and then returns to normal. But if this continues over many years, blood pressure will remain high,” explains Marianne Davey, director of the BSSA. “Snorers are at greater risk of health conditions because the effort of snoring puts undue pressure on the heart, lungs and thorax.” Other than health problems, your relationship is also likely to start showing the strain – up to 97 per cent of those who share a bed with a snorer complain of chronic sleep deprivation.
Treatment Firstly, you need to work out which part of your airway is causing the vibration – then, you’d need to find a treatment that works for you. There are three different “types” of snoring: nasal, mouth breathing and tongue based. “For example, nasal dilators will not be a suitable treatment for somebody with a ‘tongue base’ snoring problem,” explains Davey. “Any product that is ‘guaranteed’ is not worth touching, as there is absolutely no treatment for snoring that can be guaranteed to work.” For details on your type of snoring and how to cure them, go to tinyurl.com/mhcuresnoring.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
You’re soundly asleep one moment, but suddenly jerked out of bed the next by a sensation in your leg that feels as though an army of ants were setting up camp there. Well, that much sums up Restless Leg Syndrome – a prickly or tingling sensation that makes a person kick his/her legs violently in the middle of sleep.
Who it affects It may be genetic, say scientists, and is more common in obese people. It can also result from an insufficient intake of iron, and is prevalent in those who are suffering from anaemia. High consumption of alcohol, caffeine and certain antidepressants have also been associated with this condition.
Effects Other than an injured wife, RLS can (and often) lead to insomnia, as it causes the sufferer to wake up multiple times at night. The cause of RLS is still unknown, but researchers say it may be due to a dysfunction in a part of the brain.
Treatment RLS patients who are obese are usually put on a strict weight loss programme and diet, especially an increased intake of iron and other minerals. They’re also asked to improve their sleep hygiene, such as going to bed at a scheduled time every night, staying away from stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime and exercising regularly. Alternative therapies, including electric nerve stimulation, magnesium and acupuncture, have also proved beneficial in some cases.
Recall Rowan Atkinson’s character in the film Rat Race? He was severely narcoleptic and fell asleep anywhere, any time. Narcolepsy causes patients to fall asleep inexplicably at various times of the day, even if they have had a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, these “attacks” may last up to 30 minutes. It is often characterised by a loss of control over one’s muscles, which may cause standing patients to fall down, hallucinate and have an inability to move or talk.
Who it affects People who have a deficiency of hypocretin, a brain chemical that regulates sleep. While research is still ongoing on the cause, genetic factors triggered by environmental factors like a virus or trauma is suspected to be the reason.
Effects Because this disorder strikes without warning, people who suffer from narcolepsy are more prone to accidents. Nearly 75 per cent of people who are narcoleptic have been reported to fall asleep while driving. Other effects include having poor attention spans, severe headaches and obesity – all of which will take a toll on the sufferer’s quality of life.
Treatment Since no cure exists yet, treatment is targeted towards controlling the symptoms. Counselling and support groups are beneficial not only in averting disaster but also because depression is extremely common among narcoleptics. Medication has proved to be very helpful in controlling the symptoms.