What keeps us awake at night?

Wherever you live in the world, the media focus this week has been on sleep and the dangers when it is interrupted, but particularly if by snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea. In this week’s article we’re taking a quick world tour to review what has been said and to see if it differs country by country.

Woman Awake In Bed Suffering With Insomnia

Snoring is noisy, and a real nuisance, and it can take many forms. However it is pri­mar­ily caused by vi­bra­tions of the soft palate and other tis­sue in the mouth, nose and throat that be­come par­tially blocked at night.

De­pend­ing on the lo­ca­tion of the block­age, you might be a nose snorer, a mouth snorer, a throat snorer, or even a tongue-base snorer where your tongue drops to the back of your throat at night, caus­ing an ob­struc­tion. But fortunately there’s an appliance available to prevent snoring in all its forms. As well as all the different types of oral appliances, the Chin support strap is popular and there are even small Nasal dilators – venting appliances that fit inside the nostrils to keep them clear and open at night when asleep.

Starting with the UK, a new survey revealed that most people wake up three times a night, and a worrying 11% wake-up between seven and 10 times.

Discomfort and back pains wake19% of us, whilst bad dreams or nightmares affect 11% of us and another 6% say they have experienced anxiety about bills and work which has kept them from a good night’s sleep. Seventeen per cent of us are disturbed by our partners and most complaints from this latter group are related to noisy snoring by their bedmate.

Snoring is dangerous if it’s obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which is one of a number of disorders that rob sufferers of recuperative sleep. If left untreated, it increases risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

In the Republic of Ireland another survey found that one-third of people ‘get less than six hours sleep a night’, and the IKEA-commissioned survey also reveals that almost half of couples sleep back-to-back. I wonder why?

The survey was carried out among 1,000 Irish adults, selected to represent a wide range of areas and social classes.  A partner’s snoring is very likely to impact on someone’s sleep. Almost half of all of those who regularly share a bed claimed a partner’s snoring impacts negatively on their sleep.

Australia has the same problem and the Herald Sun reported that the nation is in the grip of a sleep deprivation “epidemic” with experts calling for quality shut-eye to be prioritised as a health issue with obesity and smoking.

This new research by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation has revealed a third of people are making mistakes at work because they’re fatigued while 20 per cent have fallen asleep at the wheel. The research, published in Sleep Health Journal, shows that 33 to 45 per cent of Australian adults sleep poorly or not long enough most nights leaving them fatigued and irritable.

More than 10 per cent of Australians were found to be sleeping less than five-and-a-half hours a night.

The research showed 21 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women had fallen asleep at work. Worryingly it found that sleeping issues and daytime symptoms of fatigue had increased by up to 10 per cent since similar research was conducted in 2010. Nearly a third of adults drive while drowsy at least once a month and 20 per cent have nodded off at the wheel.

Lead researcher Professor Robert Adams said: “The important of sleep is underestimated. We’ve known for 20 or 30 years that sleep problems are as important to health as things like diet, exercise, avoiding smoking and avoiding drinking but as a society we haven’t really acted on that fact”.

In North America, the problem is king size like much of the available fast food, and weight problems are regarded as a major cause of snoring. It is estimated that almost 80 million people snore in the USA alone, and a further 30 million are kept from restful sleep by obstructive sleep apnoea.

Untreated, severe obstructive sleep apnoea more than doubles the risk of dying from heart disease, the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project warns in conjunction with American Heart Month in February.

According to the Project, there are five key warning signs and risk factors for sleep apnoea: snoring, choking or gasping during sleep, fatigue or daytime sleepiness, obesity (BMI of 30 or higher) and high blood pressure. Millions of people still ignore the facts and as a result remain untreated.

Wherever we are – we need to wake up to the problem – but do so in a different way to the way we are doing it now.

John Redfern