A Whanganui sleep clinic is significantly changing people's lives and saving relationships.

Sleep nurse specialist Lynda Aplin has run the Ingestre St Eden Sleep clinic, one of a chain throughout New Zealand, for nearly two years.

"We have a contract with the Whanganui District Health Board to provide all sleep services in the Whanganui region and we are developing a private service as well," Mrs Aplin said.

A nurse who previously worked in general practice, Mrs Aplin mainly treats people with sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a common disorder in which a person pauses in breathing or shallow breathes while they sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

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"Sleep apnoea happens in very heavy snorers whose airways collapse while they're asleep," Mrs Aplin said.

"They usually wake up a lot during the night and are often very sleepy during the day because of poor quality sleep. Sleep apnoea links with lots of long-term conditions including high blood pressure, risk for heart problems, strokes and diabetes. The lack of sleep also results in people falling asleep when driving."

Sleep apnoea affects about 10 per cent of the adult population. Treatment options include weight loss, exercise, surgery and mouthguards "but if it is severe, the only thing that really works is continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy".

"I assess people and send them home with a monitor to use while they're asleep so we can work out what's happening," Mrs Aplin said.

"Sleep apnoea covers about 90 per cent of sleep disorders so we need to rule that out before looking at other issues.

"If a patient has sleep apnoea, they can trial a CPAP therapy machine which keeps the airways open. If it's a different issue, we can talk about other sleep practices that people can try, such as cognitive behavioural therapy programmes that are often available online."

Mrs Aplin says the CPAP equipment can sometimes be a barrier for people "but if you're desperate enough you'll give anything a go".

"I see people who cannot function because of lack of sleep. People [with sleep apnoea] often think how they are sleeping is normal because they've been doing it for years, but after they've tried CPAP they feel really good when they wake up. It really makes a difference to their lives and saves marriages."

Mrs Aplin sees about 10 new patients a week in Whanganui and says there are hundreds of CPAP machines being used in the region. Patients generally range in age from 20 to 80, with the majority over 50, but at present she is treating a 14-year-old.

"Anyone who snores really badly needs to get looked at as it will cause problems later in life."