Sleep apnoea is an increasingly common form of sleep disturbance. A person suddenly stops breathing for ten seconds or so, then equally suddenly takes a loud breath as if gasping for air. This can be so abrupt that the person can wake themselves. As you know, any one sleeping with the snorer can get wakeful and Worried too, although it’s not a dangerous condition.
This type of interrupted breathing occurs normally up to ten times nightly. It becomes a problem when it occurs more than ten times an hour, causing sleep deprivation that leads to symptoms such as chronic fatigue, irritability, depression, aches and pains, lack of concentration, a muzzy head and impaired daytime performance.
There are two main types of sleep apnoea. The first is called obstructive because there is a blockage of the airway path in the throat area. The muscles of the diaphragm and throat twitch and struggle to push the air past the obstruction. After a while, the force of exhalation may unblock the passages o smoother breathing is reinstated. These obstructions may be caused by swallowing the tongue, closing of the epiglottis (the flap at the entrance to the windpipe), obesity leading to weight gain in the neck area, overgrown tonsils or adenoids, chronic mucus discharge in the nose or a severely deviated septum (the central partition of the nose).
I have found the most frequent cause of obstructive sleep apnoea is spasm of the pharynx or throat, which is actually what produces snoring. I am not certain what causes the spasm: it may be that when the brain is overexcited or stressed the body tries to slow respiration in order to reduce the oxygen supply. This means the brain cells can calm down and induce deep sleep. Then the spasm of the throat muscles may become too strong at times, resulting in the person stopping breathing – apnoea.
The other type is caused by the respiratory centres in the brain stem and mid-brain functioning abnormally. Like your heartbeat breathing has its own regular rhythm, which is controlled by these nerve centres. If this automatic function is disrupted by excess alcohol or recreational drugs, heavy smoking or chronic fatigue, it can lead to sleep apnoea.
Lack of oxygen in the environment causes a form of sleep apnoea. When I trekked with a group in the Himalayas, I noticed we all had abnormal breathing patterns due to the altitude. This phenomenon, known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing, begins with the breathing becoming increasingly rapid until a peak is reached, when it turns more shallow and slow until it dwindles to a pause, which lasts for five seconds or more. I have seen similar patterns with passengers on long-haul flights.
Here is my advice:
- Anyone suffering snoring or sleep apnoea should lose weight, You might want to show your husband my new book, Dr Ali’s Weight Loss Plan.
- Sufferers should sleep on their side, covering the face and nose with the duvet or sheet, or burying the face gently into a soft pillow. This way they breathe in stale air, which is low in oxygen. This will induce sleep and prevent the pharynx or throat muscles going into spasm.
- Put two drops of sinus oil into each nostril at bedtime and sniff it in, to help clear the nasal passages.
- Avoid mucus-forming foods, particularly excess dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheese), also ice cream, chilled drinks, bananas and citrus fruits.
- Breathing exercises (pranayama) are very important.
- Try this: stand or sit comfortably, arms by your side. Straighten your upper back and let your shoulders fall back. Close your mouth and look ahead- Breathe in slowly through your nose, then breathe out quickly, pulling your stomach in sharply Pause for a moment.
- Then repeat 25 times. Lie down and relax for ten minutes.
- Neck and shoulder massage helps improve the blood flow to the brain by releasing tension. This induces better-quality sleep and helps prevent complications. Massage the area or get a friend to do it, paying attention to the muscles running up the side of the neck, which can be quite tight. (This may be a little painful at first.) Do this three times a week for about ten minutes.