A recent US study outlined by many of the UK newspapers this week, has reported that sufferers of sleep apnoea are 5 times more at-risk of cancers than those who sleep normally. However, note well that the Daily Telegraph’s provocative headline:

Snoring ‘can raise cancer risk five-fold’

is not only inaccurate, but somewhat sensational and irresponsible.

Persistent and forceful snoring is indeed a by-product (and symptom) of sleep apnoea, but it is not the act of snoring itself which makes an individual susceptible to cancer. Understanding the link between the two is important, but when the media reports with a lack of clarity it can confuse readers and detract attention from the actual issue. That said, the Telegraph must be commended for highlighting the specific form of Sleep Apnoea associated with the study.

There are 3 forms of Sleep Apnoea-

  1. Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common type of sleep apnoea. It occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes during sleep, causing a blockage of the airway (as well as loud snoring).
  2. Central sleep apnoea is a much less common type of sleep apnoea that involves the central nervous system, rather than an airway obstruction. It occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. People with central sleep apnoea seldom snore.
  3. Complex sleep apnoea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnoea.

Essentially, Sleep Apnoea affects the way you breathe during sleep. Breathing can become very shallow or even briefly interrupted. In obstructive apnoea, the soft tissue in the back of your throat blocks the airways for up to 20 seconds and can occur up to hundreds of times a night. This pause in breathing means that your oxygen levels diminish and if left untreated, scientists believe the low blood oxygen levels may encourage the growth of tumours. This is the link between Apnoea, most specifically Obstructive Apnoea (and other sleep disordered breathing conditions) and cancer. Invariably, it is not a condition that should be ignored. If you are concerned about yourself or a partner, the NHS has a very thorough and easy to comprehend dedicated website on Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Helpguide.org also list a number of symptoms useful for ascertaining whether you, or someone you live with may be suffering from the condition.

Major signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep
  • Long pauses in breathing
  • Daytime sleepiness, no matter how much time you spend in bed

Other common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless or fitful sleep
  • Insomnia or nighttime awakenings
  • Going to the bathroom frequently during the night
  • Waking up feeling out of breath
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness, irritability, or depression

Readers of the Breathing Relief blog will by now, be used to alternative therapies offered for most issues tackled in these posts. However, OSA is definitely something that should be assessed by a doctor and any prescribed course of treatment should be taken seriously. Any recommendations of lifestyle changes and/or herbal supplements can be considered, but as a supplement to your medical practitioner’s professional advice.

OSA is usually associated with size. Being overweight is a major factor in muscular obstructions. Simply by losing weight, you are removing the risk of any part of your throat blocking your airways. Obesity in the UK is on the rise with around 50% of the population either overweight or obese. Dropping the weight cannot be emphasised enough with regards to OSA, through both exercise and diet. Treat yourself as someone with extreme insomnia, meaning, measure your daily intake of caffeine, alcohol and other sleep depriving foods. Take the recommended supplements, douse yourself with lavendar, practice yoga and create opportunities to ensure you are getting enough rest.

The most important lesson to take from this new study is that the human body is truly marvellous. Everything is connected. Often this works in our favour, however, in the case of Sleep Apnoea, I’m afraid the opposite is true and you’re headed towards a plethora of intertwined health problems. Do your research, see your GP and take care of yourself.

For all sorts of snoring issues, try Breathing Relief’s nasal dilator, a drug-free, effective remedy.