Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Zzzzzzzzzzap that snoring!

Snoring is one of those things we do that we tend to laugh at, but which is important not to ignore. Snoring not only impairs the sleep of the person who does it, but that of the poor loved one who tries to sleep in the same bed with a snorer.

Today's post is devoted to snorers, and their loved ones...especially my loved ones who have patiently tolerated my snoring. I promise...I'm working on it! :)

(Since I am a guilty party, I wanted a photo of a couple in which the woman was the snorer, but there appears to be a clipart gender bias when it comes to this issue. Trust me, women snore too, and when we do it ain't a dainty thang!)

One of the primary reasons people snore is because they have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is a condition in which, due to certain sleep postures, the airway is obstructed during the night, cutting off oxygen supply. At multiple intervals during the night, air supply is completely cut off...snoring is the result of trying to breathe through an impaired airway. One of the more common cures for this type of snoring is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, fashioned after the oxygen masks used by fighter pilots. It works, but honestly, sleep docs, it's really not the most amorous solution if you're working on behalf of both people affected by this problem.

Often times the culprit in OSA is excess weight. Obesity can force new and different sleeping positions that challenge healthy breathing during sleep. People who don't sleep well can easily fall into a habit of living on caffeine and sugar for energy during the day, which can worsen the cycle of poor sleep and weight problems. Before you know're backed into a corner!

My programs all stress the importance of good sleep hygiene, in other words, making sure that most of what you do in the evenings is about signaling to your brain that sleep is coming...and then quieting your environment in order to promote that actually happening. Even little things such as changing into casual clothing, sitting in a reading chair, having a cup of chamomile tea, avoiding violent television shows and movies, minimizing alcohol intake, and avoiding intense exercise...can all help promote healthy sleep.

A very important issue to keep in mind is that with OSA, part of the problem is oxidative stress. In other words, little things you're doing that stress the brain promote degeneration of the cells in the brain that help to regulate breathing. It's not all about your weight or your habits.

Nutritionally, eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer simple carbohydrates (sweets and refined breads/pastas) can be very good anti-oxidative strategies. So can increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and decreasing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids.

Recently, some researchers reported that the sleep aid melatonin may also be helpful.

What they found in rats that had been exposed to hypoxic conditions was that indices of inflammation started to show up. Brain cells started to die. And the brain, ironically, started making less of the enzymes needed to make antioxidants. When melatonin was provided, cell death was completely prevented, there were fewer inflammatory markers to measure, and antioxidant production increased.

There are two important things this study tells us. (1) When our sleep is impaired, and we're not producing enough of our own melatonin, we have potentially created an environment that gradually kills brain cells. As annoying as snoring is, the problem is about a whole lot more and it needs to be addressed. (2) Melatonin supplements can help correct the imbalance that caused the problem.

Just a footnote, I've had many clients tell me they started taking melatonin and when it didn't help them sleep...they stopped. The authors in this study did not seem to care whether or not melatonin produced sleepy rats. They focused on and reported cellular changes. These can occur whether or not you feel sleepy the first few times you try melatonin. If snoring is an issue for you, consider trying melatonin and being consistent with its use, whether or not it's immediately improving your sleep quality.

Hung MW, Tipoe GL, Poon AM, Reiter RJ, Fung ML. Protective effect of melatonin against hippocampal injury of rats with intermittent hypoxia. J Pineal Res. 2008 Mar;44(2):214-21.

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