Whether it’s a mild annoyance or divorce fodder, snoring can actually be a sign of something more medically serious. But a new app promises to help identify the risk of sleep apnoea so you or your loved one can seek treatment early and get hopefully back to sleeping soundly.
It’s one of the oldest cliches of modern married life: One person lies wide awake with their pillow folded over their ears, while their partner, deep in slumber, unwittingly sends out thunderous vibrations like they’re trying to start a lawnmower in their throat.
While snoring can be anywhere from a mild annoyance to divorce fodder for the one awake, it can be a sign of something medically serious for the other doing the snoring (it’s one of life’s greatest injustices that the snorer is always the one to fall asleep first).
Sleep apnoea, a disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep, affects over 775,000 Australians every year, but the reality is it could be a lot more: it’s estimated 80 percent of adults suffering from moderate and severe sleep apnoea go undiagnosed.
And it can have serious health consequences that go beyond sleep deprivation and fatigue, like high blood pressure, mood imbalances, an impaired immune system, and headaches.
If left untreated, it can lead to depression, stroke, and cardiovascular disease later in life, as well as much higher risk (seven times more likely) of being in a car accident.
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What causes sleep apnoea?
“A combination of genetic and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of sleep apnoea,” says Dr. Darren Mansfield of the Sleep Health Foundation.
“Genetics contribute to the shape of the upper airway and its muscle reflexes. Sleep apnoea can also emerge as a result of lifestyle factors such as weight gain, body positioning during sleep, alcohol consumption or other muscle relaxants… [But] some individuals are more susceptible to sleep apnoea depending on the diameter of their upper airway, and its tendency to collapse.”
Having been told he was a “loud snorer” for “as long as [he] can remember”, Jules Batstone only realised his sleep patterns might be a problem when he got married.
“It hasn’t affected our relationship or sleeping routine a whole lot, other than getting a (gentle) nudge in the night when I’m keeping my wife awake,” he says.
“After a string of sleepless nights, my wife, Lindsay, decided to research some solutions to my snoring problem, which is how we found out about sleep apnoea and its associated risks. That’s when I realised that there might be a more serious underlying problem.”
To diagnose sleep apnoea, you generally have to undergo a polysomnogram, aka a sleep study, usually requiring an overnight stay at a lab/hospital so you can be observed and your sleep patterns recorded. They can be pricey if not bulk billed or covered by your insurance, invasive, and time-consuming.
But a new app called SleepCheck can help determine whether you or your partner is at risk of the disorder from the comfort and privacy of your own home, all you have to do is enter in your age, gender, and neck size and hit record before you turn the lights off at night.
While you sleep, it will record your breathing and snoring sounds to assess whether there’s a risk of sleep apnoea.
“Without the app, it’s unlikely that I would have been tested, as I was a little wary about the potential treatment options,” says Jules, who after being determined by SleepCheck as high risk, is now planning on seeing a sleep specialist.
“Not all sleep apnoea needs a definitive treatment, as milder forms may have less of an impact,” says Dr. Mansfield.
For the snorer, simple lifestyle adjustments can help, like weight loss, reducing alcohol intake, or avoiding other muscle relaxants. Things that help reposition the body during sleep, like specially-designed pillows and mouth guards to bring the tongue forward, are common solutions.
The SleepCheck app is available now for $7.99 on the Apple App Store (it’s coming soon for Android).