Snored rigid

by Margo White / 13 December, 2012
If you and your partner’s nights are being ruined by snoring, there’s a range of gadgets that might help.
Snored rigid
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Your bedmate has told you your relationship is no longer the stuff of which dreams are made because of the way you honk and rattle throughout the night. So, what can you do about it? A variety of anti-snoring devices are available off-the-shelf and through specialists. But which are likely to work? It partly depends on where the noise is coming from.

When you sleep, your airways relax and narrow, affecting the pressure of the air you breathe in. This causes the soft tissues of the soft palate, nasal passages, neck and mouth to vibrate, which can make you sound like a wounded gorilla. A GP is likely to prescribe the usual penances for a snorer – stop smoking, stop drinking and lose weight. You could avoid sleeping on your back, although this is something you might forget to do once you’re asleep.

If the snoring is the result of congested nasal passages, nasal splints and dilators that push the nostrils apart might be worth trying. If the sound is coming from your mouth, chinstraps and mouthguards might help by forcing you to breathe through your nose.

If the snoring can be traced to a vibrating tongue, you might want to try a device known as the mandibular repositioning splint (MRS), which will push your tongue and jaw forward, increasing the space at the back of your throat. Bear in mind that one size MRS is unlikely to fit all jaws. “They can be 100% effective or can be catastrophic failures,” says sleep physiologist Brynn Sparks, cautioning against MRS devices that don’t have a mobile upper and lower plate. The plates should also move independently of each other.

“And with any device that pulls your jaw forward, you need to get your teeth checked regularly by someone who knows what they’re doing.” Depending on the severity of the snoring and how often you are likely to use the device, it may be worth having one made for you by a dental specialist.

According to Sparks, snoring is most likely to come from deep within the throat, and if so, the “gold standard” therapy is a continuous positive airway pressure device, or CPAP. This is the innovation on which Fisher & Paykel Healthcare has built a 21st-century business success story. It’s a mask attached to a machine (sometimes fitted with a clock and MP3 player) that keeps the air passages in the throat open by pushing air through them. “That’s a common location for snoring to come from,” says Sparks, “which is why a lot of other treatments are not very effective.”

CPAP devices have traditionally been prescribed for apnoea, a sleep disorder characterised by abnormal pauses in breathing. (And only people with apnoea are likely to get a CPAP through the public health system.) Not all snorers have apnoea, but many will suffer similar health consequences that can result from disturbed sleep, says Sparks.

“If you have a sense that sleep is less refreshing than it should be – or you have some of the things that come with fragmented sleep, like the bladder filling up so you go to the toilet more, or you are finding it hard to lose weight and you crave high-energy food like carbohydrates – those can be consequences of disturbed sleep. “It might have nothing to do with apnoea but everything to do with the vibration of the muscles that make the noise of snoring.”

Sparks wishes more snorers knew the relief a CPAP could give them – and their bedmates. Asked if he might be medicalising a normal aspect of the human condition, he says wearing a mask to bed is no different from wearing glasses for fading eyesight. At the age most people begin to need reading glasses – middle-age – they are likely to start snoring. Chances are it’s only going to get worse. A CPAP device is not cheap – $1600, not including a consultation with a sleep specialist. “But that’ll give you 10 years of quiet sleep.”

Health briefs


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Researchers have identified the moment in history, 500 million years ago, when we developed the genes that enabled us to learn complex skills, analyse situations and be flexible in the way we think. The research, detailed in two papers in Nature Neuroscience, shows that intelligence in humans developed as the result of a “genetic accident” that led to a sudden increase in the number of brain genes in our evolutionary ancestors. The study also showed that when these genes mutated or were damaged, they impaired higher mental functions – in other words, the costs of higher intelligence include mental illness and brain disorders.


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