Sleepless locals seek solution

More people are seeking help for snoring and sleep apnoea in Tauranga than anywhere else in New Zealand, says a leading sleep expert.

Nationally about 9 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women suffer from the two sleeping disruptions.

Sleep specialist Alex Bartle travels the country treating sleep issues and said Tauranga had the highest number of people he had encountered seeking help.

"I have been seeing quite a lot of people with sleep apnoea. For example, in January on one clinic day I saw five people with sleep apnoea. In the most recent visit I saw seven sleep apnoea people.

"That's the busiest I have ever been with sleep apnoea over the 30 years I've been doing this," Dr Bartle said.

Up to 80 per cent of people seeking help from his clinic were referred for help by their partners. The causes behind sleepless nights vary. Sometimes it came down to stress, alcohol or being overweight.

"There's no question in some cases a lot of farmers and kiwifruit growers struggle with stress," Dr Bartle said.

Raising awareness of the effect snoring and sleep apnoea can have was "incredibly important," Dr Bartle said.

Sleep problems not only made people tired during the day, it affected bed partners, individual health and contributed to road accidents through fatigued driving.

"I looked at 600 patients and the more severe the sleep apnoea the more likely they were to be taking anti-depressants," he said.

People could also suffer from hypertension, weight gain and heart attacks. The biggest problem was people became conditioned to sleepless nights and often made excuses for it such as getting older, worrying about work or having young children.

"But it's not normal to wake up feeling tired," Dr Bartle said, adding he believed Tauranga people were often in better financial positions to seek help from a private clinic, compared to people in other regions, which could explain the higher number of people seeking help.

Up to 70 per cent of Dr Bartle's patients saw him without going to a GP first, he said.

GETTING a decent night's sleep can be a nightmare for Gate Pa mother Sharon Rahman.

The 43-year-old suffers from sleep apnoea and wears an oxygen mask to help her breathe at night. She has used a continuous positive airway pressure machine for more than two years.

The machine uses a mild air pressure to prevent her airway from collapsing or becoming blocked as she sleeps. It has changed her life.

"I've never slept very well. Not for years. I would always wake up feeling tired, feeling like I hadn't actually been to sleep," Mrs Rahman said.

She had no idea she had a problem until it was discovered while in Tauranga Hospital's ICU after a routine operation.

"My oxygen levels, when I was sleeping, went down quite a bit. They sent me to someone at the hospital, so now I'm on the mask," she said. At first, strapping the plastic mask on was "very, very weird".

"I felt a bit claustrophobic but now I'm just so used to it. I wouldn't be without it."

Snoring and apnoea

  • Snoring: As people sleep, muscles holding the airway open relax. This results in an airway narrow enough that the normal suction of breathing in causes the airway to vibrate, resulting in the noise of snoring.

  • Sleep apnoea: Some people snore so badly the relaxed airway partially or completely sucks shut. Each event of airway collapse is called an "apnoea", which means "without breath". If it happens often enough is known as sleep apnoea.

The Solution

  • Lifestyle changes.

  • Wearing a continuous positive airway pressure mask at night.

  • Surgical procedures to bring the tongue forward.

  • Wearing mouthguard-like devices that bring the jaw forward.

  • Losing weight from the neck.


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