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Dear Doctor: My husband's snoring is keeping me awake. Is there a better answer than separate bedrooms?

My partner snores so much I have had to move into a different room.

He even seems to stop breathing during the night. What can he do to stop this?

Snoring may be a sign of a potentially serious sleep disorder — obstructive sleep apnoea. This occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. This can lower the level of oxygen in the blood, which your brain responds to and briefly rouses you from sleep so you can reopen your airway.

Signs of obstructive sleep apnoea include loud snoring, pauses in the breathing while asleep (10-20 seconds) and abrupt awakenings, sometimes with a snorting, choking or gasping sound. People with this condition may notice feeling drowsy during the day, but may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted.

Anyone can develop sleep apnoea, however, more than half of those with the obstructive type are overweight. A neck circumference greater than 17 inches (43cm) for men and 15 inches (38cm) for women is another risk factor. In general, men are twice as likely to have sleep apnoea, while a woman's risk appears to increase after the menopause.

Can it affect your health in other ways?

About half of people with sleep apnoea also have high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels increase blood pressure and strain the heart, and you are more likely to develop abnormal heart rhythms. Other risks include complications after major surgery as you're prone to breathing problems if sedated lying on your back.

What treatment is available?

For milder cases of obstructive sleep apnoea, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, are recommended first. If these measures don't improve the symptoms, or if the apnoea is more severe, there are a number of treatments available.

A machine that delivers pressurised air through a mask placed over your nose while asleep (CPAP) prevents snoring and apnoea. Wearing a mouthpiece designed to keep your throat open is an option, but mouthpieces aren't as consistently effective as CPAP. Surgery to remove tissue from the back of the mouth as well as tonsils and adenoids can be successful in stopping throat structures from vibrating and causing snoring.

Is there anything he can do in the meantime?

While waiting to see a sleep specialist, get him to keep a sleep diary recording sleep patterns, bedtime, number of hours slept, nightime awakenings and awake time, his daily routine and how he feels during the day.

Lose weight. Avoid alcohol. Get him to sleep on his side or stomach rather than on his back. If he suffers with nasal congestion, get him to use a saline nasal spray to keep the nasal passages open.


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