Tickle your chin to banish chronic snoring
02:31 GMT, 9 April 2013
02:33 GMT, 9 April 2013
Doctors are using a ‘chin stroker’ to tackle snoring.
The device stimulates muscles under the chin with small electric shocks, which they say helps ease symptoms in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea.
This condition, which triggers snoring, causes the tongue to flop back into the throat.
Snoring occurs when the airway is partially obstructed – the sound is generated by air rushing past the soft tissues in the throat
Other soft tissues in the throat can also collapse, blocking the airway.
The idea is that by stimulating the muscles that control the tongue and other parts of the throat, the airways will widen, therefore silencing the snores.
Obstructive sleep apnoea affects around 4 per cent of middle-aged people, and leads to the sufferer’s throat closing repeatedly during the night.
Snoring occurs when the airway is partially obstructed — the sound is generated by air rushing past the soft tissues in the throat.
In severe cases the airway can become completely blocked, stopping breathing for up to ten seconds, before the brain jolts the body awake, causing the airway to reopen.
Electrodes are placed either side of the throat directly underneath the jaw
Risk factors include being overweight and some medications, including sleeping pills.
The condition also becomes more common around the time of the menopause, possibly because hormonal changes cause the throat muscles to relax more than usual.
The new treatment, on trial at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, uses a technique known as continuous transcutaneous electrical stimulation.
Electrodes are placed either side of the throat directly underneath the jaw.
These deliver small electrical shocks that cause the muscles to contract, pulling open the airway.
An earlier study involving 33 patients showed that using the device at night for ten minutes at a time stimulates the genioglossus muscle, which runs from the chin to the tongue, and helps widen the airway.
Another small study, with six patients, at Tohoku University School of Medicine in Japan found a 50 per cent improvement in symptoms.
Now doctors at Guy’s and St Thomas’ have developed a new version of the device that senses when an episode is taking place by using a small microphone that detects the sound of snoring and a sensor that detects airflow from the nose.
It then delivers a burst of electric currents until normal breathing is restored.
The electrical currents are painless, and do not wake the patient.
The device is being tested in a new trial involving nearly 50 patients.
Meanwhile, scientists from the UK and Canada have started to unravel the mysteries of alcohol and sleep.
Previous research suggests a late-night tipple worsens sleep. But after reviewing more than 200 studies, the scientists have revealed that the effect of alcohol might actually produce a different outcome.
It seems to increase the amount of deep sleep in the first half of the night, which is important for creating new memories and keeping the immune system healthy.
However, it also seems to increase the likelihood of snoring and sleepwalking in this sleep phase.
Alcohol then disrupts sleep in the second half of the night, and reduces the amount of time a person spends in so-called REM sleep, the phase during which we dream.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, from the London Sleep Centre and one of the researchers behind the study, says this effect on REM sleep may be why people find alcohol before bed helps them feel more relaxed the next day.
‘One hypothesis is that alcohol acts like medications used for depression and anxiety.
‘Studies on patients with depression have identified that they have excessive REM sleep, and that antidepressant medication suppressed this.
‘This impact of alcohol on REM sleep may explain the mood elevation and anxiety reduction associated with alcohol use.’
However, Dr Ebrahim cautions that, overall, alcohol may worsen sleep quality.