Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Dec 30, 2001

About Us
Contact Us
Magazine Published on Sundays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Folio |


For a good night's sleep

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a debilitating sleep-related breathing disorder. Noted fitness expert PEG JORDAN looks at remedies.

Sleep as well as a baby.

IF you're middle-aged, carrying some extra weight, and find yourself growing sleepy in the middle of the day, it could be that you are holding your breath during your sleep. Much more serious than simple snoring, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a debilitating sleep-related breathing disorder defined as the cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more (an apnea) at least five times per hour of sleep. People with OSA can experience up to 60 breathing interruptions per hour with many lasting as long as 20-60 seconds.

What causes OSA?

People who suffer from OSA experience brief episodes of obstructed breathing, which can last 20 seconds or even longer. Throughout the night, as you fall into a deeper sleep, the muscles gradually relax, which can cause your breathing to falter and the snoring to grow louder, until airflow is completely, or almost completely, obstructed.

As the brain senses a decrease in oxygen, a nerve impulse briefly rouses you from sleep. The muscles ``awaken'' and reopen the airway, and this action is usually accompanied by a gasp or snort. Afterward, you quickly fall asleep again and repeat the pattern hundreds of time per night.

The problem is that the level of oxygen in the blood falls to dangerously low levels, raising blood pressure and putting a strain on the cardiovascular system. Plus, it prevents restful and refreshing sleep. Daytime sleepiness can result in a range of symptoms from depression to being accident-prone.

In fact, studies show that people with OSA are three to five times more likely to have automobile accidents than the general population. They also suffer from morning headaches, dry mouth, irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive perspiring during sleep and reduced libido. But by far, the most serious problems are the associated greater risks of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Witnessing apnea episodes can be a frightening experience because a person with OSA appears to be suffocating. Frequently, it is the sleep-deprived bed partner who convinces the apneic person to seek medical help. Also, if you've ever slept near anyone with this sleep pattern of silence-then-gasping-then-snoring and back to silence, then you know how your entire night can be spent just waiting for the next big gasp to strike again!

What's the latest treatment?

Until recently, traditional therapy was rather cumbersome. People were given a face mask connected to a pump that forces air into the nasal passages at pressures high enough to overcome obstructions in the airway and stimulate normal breathing. This mask and airflow is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). People usually find the mask uncomfortable, claustrophobic, or embarrassing, even though the apparatus is effective. It can bring on dried out nasal passages, congestion, sore eyes, headaches and abdominal bloating due to pressure gradients. Most people discontinue treatment looking for better alternatives.

Surgical methods include Uvolopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), the surgical resection of the uvula, the part of the soft palate that hangs down in the back of your throat like a little punching bag. Sometimes the tonsils or other tissue is surgically resectioned, too. You have to have general anaesthesia, but this surgery may not help obstructions that result from the base of the tongue. Other surgeries are even more invasive and reduce the size of the tongue, move it forward, or try other resection methods.

A new procedure is called the Somnoplasty, performed under local anaesthesia. OSA is treated by shrinking soft tissue in the upper airway including the base of the tongue. Somnoplasty uses radio frequency (RF) energy to reduce tissue volume and stiffen soft tissue so it doesn't fall down and block the airway. The somnoplasty procedure generates heat at approximately 85C (185F) to create finely controlled coagulative lesions within the upper airway. The lesions are naturally resorbed within eight weeks. People can return to normal activities within one day after the procedure, but sometimes it has to be repeated more than once. Generally, ear, nose and throat specialists are the ones being trained to perform the Somnoplasty procedure. For more information on it, visit

Snore no more

If you or someone you know is just a regular type of snorer with no scary breathing cessations, then you still may not be getting a restful sleep. Whether you purr like a kitten or roar like a lion is often best judged in the ear of the beholder. But chronic snoring can be a real detriment to getting a good night's shut-eye. Here are some natural medicine remedies that you might consider:

Avoid any alcohol before you go to bed. The traditional nightcap can typically nod you off to sleep quickly but rob of you uninterrupted sleep because of its impact on the endocrine system. As for snoring, alcohol-induced sleep has been found to be a noisier type of sleep, with more restlessness and obstructed airway.

Try a dose of tryptophan. A naturally occurring amino acid, tryptophan is a sleep-inducing agent because it raises serotonin levels, which is the neurotransmitter in the brain that influences sleep, mood, and appetite. Funny how those things flock together. If you're sleepless, you can wake up in a bad mood, and undergo a day of carbohydrate cravings that turn your mood even fouler if you can't get your hands on the right food! Food sources of tryptophan include wheat germ, cottage cheese, milk, turkey, pork, avocado, ham, eggs and almonds, or you can look for a tryptophan supplement.

Establish a night-time ritual. Take a warm bath, play soothing music, don't watch any action-adventure flicks, or get into any late-night arguments. Some think reading in bed helps them to nod off; others would disagree. Get in touch with what helps you unwind and make a regular practice of it.

Be sure to keep your palate moist. Keep a glass of water by the bedside and wet your palate when you think you're drying out.

Try some of the new topical sprays for the back of your throat that are designed to keep the area moist and prevent the dried out, raspy snore that is so common.

When nothing else works, try a pair of small, spongy earplugs. It won't stop the snoring but it may block out the noise. Good luck!


Send this article to Friends by E-Mail


Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Folio |

The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |

Comments to :   Copyright 2001, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu