Snoring has now been proved to be Step One in the decline of your health

If you are 40 and snoring heavily, you may already have begun the steady decline into a health-threatening middle age.

Researchers have charted the downward journey into the chronic illnesses that typically burden people from mid-life. They have mapped out the first four steps and found that it begins with snoring.

snoring-4-steps

The results of this new study were released at the Sleep Down Under 2016 conference in Adelaide last weekend, and for the study in question, specialists at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne worked with a large selection of snorers whose snoring was bad enough for them to seek medical help. Almost all had underlying sleep apnoea and its progression was tracked back along with the resultant onset of various key health problems.

The study participants were aged around 55 and mostly male. The males generally had begun snoring around the age of 32, which was much earlier than the women, who started on average at 40.

When the specialists investigated their other health issues, they found links to hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all of which are physiologically similar and are most usually linked with obesity and lifestyle factors.

Of all the study participants, 43 per cent had hypertension, a quarter had diabetes and 23 per cent had some form of heart disease. Eight per cent of them had all four conditions, referred to as the quadrella.

In those with the quadrella, the pattern was clear with snoring happening first, followed by hypertension, then diabetes and finally heart disease. Three-quarters of those with all four health problems were male and most of them were in their 60s.

Their decline had been in process for many years and the researchers say the sequential nature of these conditions and subsequent progression is worth investigating to test the impact of early intervention. That of course means to persuade people to stop snoring as early as possible.

This slippery slope for those on the path of ill health began when they started to snore very heavily at an average age of 39. By about 43 they have signs of high blood pressure and by 52 they are knocking on the door of diabetes. By the time they hit 54, they have early symptoms of heart disease. Snoring however is now known to start much earlier than that age, primarily due to worsening lifestyle factors such as being overweight or obese. This narrows the throat and causes the problem to start at an earlier age. For those of a normal weight the throat tends not to restrict until the problems of relaxed muscles starts to occur due to age.

A good night’s sleep is critical for good health and this is a deteriorating situation as the number of people with sleep disorders grows every year as a result. It was a question being pondered by 700 experts at a conference in Adelaide where key papers outlined breakthroughs to help millions of people suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and insomnia.

It is estimated as many as 1.5 million Australians suffer from a major sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea with as many as 80 per cent of them undiagnosed. Sleeping conditions such as sleep apnoea cost the Australian community more than $5 billion a year in health and indirect costs, with the impact to quality of life estimated to be worth more than $31 billion a year.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs in about 18 million Americans at a cost of over $80 billion, or about one in 15 people, and is caused by a repetitive airway collapse that prevents air from reaching the lungs. Sleep apnoea can have negative consequences if it goes undiagnosed and untreated early. As well as the conditions mentioned previously, it causes chronic tiredness, which can lead to cognitive impairment including trouble concentrating and memory problems.

The problem is rife throughout the world and has been identified recently by the NHS in Britain as a key area on which to focus.

Advice and medically approved treatment to prevent the problem of snoring, and its possible development to OSA, are available easily online without prescription. A selection of mouthpieces that are worn at night, and designed to suit the degree of the problem, can put years onto your life and its resultant quality.

John Redfern