The Importance of a Good Night’s Rest
15th, Mar 2023
In line with World Sleep Day, Dr Roger Brown, Private GP at Kingsbridge North West discusses the importance of sleep in our latest blog.
Sleeping is one of the most important activities that we engage in and on average we spend between one quarter and one third of our lives asleep - if we are fortunate.
Lack of sleep happens for many reasons. Perhaps you snore - or perhaps someone sleeping next to you does. Often we are not even aware of just how disturbed our sleep is.
All we know is that the following morning we struggle to waken and don't feel refreshed as we start the day. We may feel tired all day long and suffer from dull headaches and poor concentration.
It is estimated that 40% of the British population regularly snores. Many people are aware of snoring as a cause of sleep disturbance, but perhaps are not aware of the mechanisms that produce the noise or the pattern.
Snoring is caused by the vibration of some of the softer tissues in the upper airway, the soft palate and uvula, upper throat and tonsils, nose or tongue, and may waken sufferers many times through the night - though they may not even be aware of it.
Some people may also have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) which is snoring during which breathing stops temporarily. This is when help might be needed.
Some people only snore when they have had a fair bit of alcohol before sleeping, some only when they have a cold or are suffering with hay fever. Some are habitual, possibly even nightly snorers, while others snore due to the shape of their nose and mouth.
Some people may snore due to nasal polyps, a deviated nasal septum, a swollen thyroid gland, enlarged tonsils and so on. The only way to know if any of these is a problem is to have a doctor check you out.
It is widely known that sleeping on your back and being overweight will make snoring more likely. It is more common in men than in women, and more common in the 40-60 age groups, yet can happen at any age from childhood onwards. If you smoke you are also more likely to snore.
If you have OSA this may predispose you to not only sleepiness (somnolence) during the day, which if you are a professional driver or operate machinery is risky, but even more serious is the increased risk of a stroke.
If you attend your GP to discuss snoring and/or OSA you should be examined to exclude the anatomical things mentioned above and perhaps have a thyroid function test carried out (the thyroid gland is just below the voice box in the neck and may be implicated).
You may need to be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for treatment/surgery or for sleep assessments in a specialist sleep clinic. The end result may be that you are offered a device which uses positive pressure ventilation to keep your airways open while you sleep.
There are various devices available to buy which might help. Nasal strips or dilators keep the nasal passages open if the nose is the problem. Chin straps keep the mouth close and force nasal breathing if the problem is with the soft palate, jaw thrusting or soft palate. Again, splints help keep the passages clear.
Snoring causes a lot of misery - but it may be possible to improve things a lot. If you are overweight, a smoker, or drink too much alcohol before bed, then it is sensible to try simple solutions first. If you are suffering and need help, seek advice from your GP.
Dr Roger Brown, Lead GP at Kingsbridge North West
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