If about 35% of Belgian adults snore, this phenomenon does not always betrays fortunately, far from it, the existence of a medical problem. This hum simply the result of the relaxation of the muscles of the pharynx during sleep; the diameter of the throat is reduced, so that inhaled air can vibrate mobile structures such as the uvula and soft palate, causing the familiar noises.

“Sometimes, however, the diameter of the groove is already reduced in the standby state, for example in the presence of an excessive amount of adipose tissue, of an excessive shift of the jaw rearward, a control problem or other dysfunction of the muscles of … throat, “says Dr. Bertien Buyse, the university center of sleep disorders and the awakening of Leuven (LUCS). “The passage of air is then reduced so that the person at night will have trouble breathing. Extremely loud snoring and may be accompanied by pauses in breathing that can last more than ten seconds. These breaks are a sign that the orifice is partially or completely closed, during these phases, the oxygen level drops dramatically and carbonic acid accumulates, until the brain directs a brief revival that will to contract the muscles of the throat and reopen the throat. ” There is talk of sleep obstructive sleep apnea in the presence of more than 5 apneas or hypopneas of these per hour; when it produces more than 15 per hour, treatment is needed. It is estimated that this situation affects about 5% of Belgian adults (about twice as many men as women).

Cardiovascular diseases

People with sleep apnea often unaware of these frequent nocturnal awakenings, although usually notice that they have a greater need to urinate. “The struggle to achieve breathe also has an impact on the heart, which results in the release of a natural diuretic substance. This is what explains the increased urine production,” clarifies Professor Buyse. These patients also complain of morning headaches often (“due to the carbonic acid build up during the night,” said the specialist) and continually tend to doze off during the day. “What makes them more at risk of accidents and also often makes them more irritable.”

Sleep apnea also have adverse effects on longer-term health. The state of respiratory distress during the regular micro-awakenings at night stimulates the production of stress hormones, besides the repeated deficits more oxygen leave the field open to certain harmful substances in the blood. “In medical jargon, it is called oxidative stress, a phenomenon which increases the risk of potentially serious cardiovascular disease,” says Professor Buyse. When a problem suspected apnea, the general refer the patient to a center specializing in sleep disorders. “If a first examination confirms this suspicion, we will polysomnography. The patient will then spend a night in the laboratory to allow us to record a series of parameters during sleep.”


After a diagnosis of sleep apnea, regardless of gravity, it will still be interesting to follow some tips. “Losing excess kilos sometimes already sufficient to reduce or even to completely eliminate apnea. We also recommend sleeping pills and alcoholic drinks during the evening, as these substances promote relaxation of pharyngeal muscles.”

In presence of light to moderate apnea caused by the position of the lower jaw, wearing a mouthpiece during the night can be an effective solution. “Provided you have healthy teeth, said Professor Buyse. The device must be custom made by a dentist specializing in collaboration with the sleep clinic. The patient should also be monitored, as the port of the tip can change the position of his jaw over time. Furthermore, upon awakening, the pull exerted on the teeth at night can give the impression that they are about to come off. And the port on the device sometimes causes salivation superabundant. ”

nasal mask

The treatment of choice for severe sleep apnea, however, lies in the harbor at night, a positive pressure mask (CPAP). It covers the nose and mouth and is connected by a thin tube to a near-silent electric device placed on the bedside table. “This unit slightly increases the pressure of the inspired air, which prevents the throat from locking.”

In rare cases, there are other treatment options. “Some patients may derive a profit such a small device causing vibrations to encourage them to sleep on their side rather than the back, others of an operation of the throat or lower jaw. Finally, researchers are developing a kind of ‘pacemaker’ implanted on the tongue to stimulate the nerve and thus maintain the opening of the throat. The device is still at the experimental stage but looks promising. ”

By Year Swerts