When a friend complains about their partner's snoring, many people might not think much about it. But if the snoring is so bad your friend needs earplugs just to sleep, that’s a real problem. It most likely is a sign of sleep apnea.
To really help your friend, you can simply ask -- how is the partner the next day, after all that snoring? Grumpy, morning headaches, tired all the time? Trouble staying awake while driving? Trouble concentrating at work?
If these ring true with your friend, it’s time their partner talks to a healthcare professional about sleep apnea.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
There are a few different types of sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type. During sleep, the throat relaxes, and this can block the airways, reducing oxygen levels in the blood.
In order to protect itself, the body's reflexes wake the body up momentarily so that normal breathing resumes. Although most people are not aware of waking, this cycle – with breathing stoppages and waking throughout the night -- leads to poor sleep, low oxygen levels and tiredness the next day.
Without the oxygen it needs, the body’s cells, organs and blood vessels don’t get the nourishment they need to keep you healthy. That takes a toll over time, leading to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions.
This medical problem puts pressure on relationships, with one partner inevitably moving to a spare bedroom (or couch) to avoid the snoring and get a good night’s sleep.
Signs and Symptoms
As with the scenario we’ve described, some of the key signs of OSA will be observed by their bed partner. These include the noisy snoring, choking and gasping sounds that often include long pauses between snores. These long pauses occur when the airways block before the body wakes itself.
Because of the snoring and low oxygen levels, people with OSA often wake with a very dry mouth and a headache which gradually disappears as the oxygen levels correct themselves.
When you have OSA, daytime drowsiness and fatigue can affect your quality of life and the ability to think and concentrate effectively. People who are sleep deprived have a higher risk of accidents, particularly when driving or operating machinery.
Getting Tested for Sleep Apnea
Like your friend’s partner, it's really important to seek professional help and get a diagnosis.
The first step may be an 'at home test' to measure heart rate, oxygen level and breathing during the night – while sleeping in their own bed. This is a convenient and comfortable way for a sleep specialist to determine if the condition is sleep apnea.
Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are some relatively easy lifestyle changes that may help reduce symptoms. These include losing weight, stopping smoking and changing your sleeping position. Often, just by avoiding sleeping on your back you can help reduce snoring - it's easier to maintain an open airway by lying on your side. There are some specially designed pillows that can help support side-lying too.
For some people, a dentist may be able to provide some help. Dentists can make a custom oral device to help support the tongue and jaw while you sleep. Like a retainer, this is worn in the mouth overnight to help keep the airway open and helps to reduce snoring.
For people with more serious OSA, one of the most effective treatments is CPAP therapy. CPAP therapy uses continuous positive airway pressure to keep the airways open and support oxygen levels. The sleeper wears a mask (either full face or over the nose) while they sleep. The mask is connected to the CPAP machine with a hose which delivers air into the mask.
Show your friend this article, to help them understand this condition. It’s really one that should not be ignored – as it affects overall physical health, as well as their relationship.
When people follow the treatment advice from sleep specialists, they inevitably feel healthier and happier. Relationships improve when everyone gets a good night's sleep.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea here: