Snoring is never healthy, it's a red flag to problems

SNORING is considered by many to be a harmless, albeit slightly annoying, trait that people have to live with.

But the reality is snoring is actually a mild form of sleep disordered breathing or SDB - which in severe cases can cause the sufferer to stop breathing altogether, a condition known as sleep apnoea.

Described by the manager of Sleep Clinic Services Brett Chamberlain as the "hidden epidemic", SDB affects one in three Australians.

"Snoring is never a healthy thing. People think that it is normal just because it is common," he said.

"We should be seeing it as a red flag."

SDB is caused by weakening tissue in the upper airway which obstructs breathing passages when a person is deeply relaxed or asleep.

Mr Chamberlain said anyone could be affected by apnoea regardless of their age, size or gender but it had been found to be more common in shift workers and pregnant women.

"There is no causal link - that is direct evidence - that shift work causes sleep apnoea but there are certainly a high correlation," he said.

"The suspected cause is that their sleep rhythm gets out of whack, and people snack on high-sugar foods to keep themselves awake."

He said those foods then result in weight gain around the throat which further encroaches the airway causing a bad sleep and the "negative spiral" starts again.

When a person stops breathing, blood oxygen levels decrease and their sympathetic nervous system forces them to wake up to take a breath.

However because this wakeful period is brief, the sufferer falls back to sleep without knowing there has been a problem.

Those who display the symptoms of sleep apnoea should visit their doctor or call a specialist sleep clinic to arrange a sleep diagnostic test which can be carried out at home.

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