Oct. 6, 1999 ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A new Mayo Clinic study confirms what many have claimed for years: they're losing ZZZ's sleeping with a partner who snores loudly.
"Our study found that eliminating a patient's snoring and obstructive sleep apnea -- breathing that stops and starts during sleep -- significantly increased bed partners quality and quantity of sleep," says John Shepard, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center and senior author of the study. The research is published in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Investigators studied 10 married couples in which the husband was being evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea. Both the patients and their spouses underwent simultaneous polysomnography, a sleep study that monitors heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and blood oxygen levels. Researchers used the test to measure the number of disordered breathing episodes in the patients, the number of arousals in each partner and the percentage of time that each person spent sleeping.
Midway through the one-night study, the snoring patients put on an oxygen mask-like device to stop the snoring and obstructive breathing events. Researchers then compared quality of sleep in the spouses before and after the device was used.
"As we suspected, the spouses experienced significant improvements in sleep quality when their husbands were treated with the device," Dr. Shepard says. "The average percentage of time that spouses spent sleeping increased from 74 percent to 87 percent, which adds more than an extra hour of sleep per night."
Researchers found that patients' snoring was eliminated and that the disrupted breathing episodes declined from an average of 26 to 7 with treatment. They also found that 43 percent of the spouses' arousals during sleep were related to patient snores and that arousals decreased by 39 percent after the snoring stopped.
"If people tell you that you have a distinctive snoring pattern -- you snore so loudly that you can be heard in the next room, but then you suddenly stop breathing to the point that it frightens them, and then you suddenly resume breathing with a snort or choking sound -- you may have sleep apnea," says Dr. Shepard. "Most often, the person you sleep with will bring this to your attention."
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles that support soft tissues in the back of the throat relax during sleep, causing the airway to close. Respiration is momentarily cut off, and the level of oxygen in the blood drops. It's considered a serious medical condition because sudden drops in blood oxygen levels raise blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. In addition, the repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible -- for patients and their bed partners.
One study reports habitual snoring in 44 percent of men and 28 percent of women. Obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately four percent of women and nine percent of men between the ages of 30 and 60 years.
"Until proven otherwise, we should simply double the numbers for the prevalence of sleep disorders in the United States and say that a problem we have called "the largest health problem in America" is twice as big as we previously thought," write William Dement, M.D., Ph.D., and Clete Kushida, M.D., Ph.D.; Sleep Disorders Research Center; Palo Alto, Calif.; in an accompanying editorial. "We should also keep at the front of our minds that for every snoring patient we evaluate and treat, we are improving the lives of two people."
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