Snoring can be sign of serious sleep disorder
Asians are more prone to obstructive sleep apnea
Nothing spoils a good night's sleep like a snoring partner. But in many cases, these snores can hint at a more serious problem, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
The sleep disorder is characterised by repeated pauses of 10 seconds or more in breathing during sleep. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, obstructing breathing.
While OSA is not the most common sleep disorder in Singapore, it has the highest health implication, according to sleep physician and ear, nose and throat surgeon Han Hong Juan.
"Reported figures have risen in the past few years and historically, it has always been under-diagnosed," Dr Han told The New Paper.
Studies abroad estimate that more than 100 million people globally suffer from sleep apnea and 80 per cent of them remain undiagnosed.
In Singapore, a 2016 study by JurongHealth Services found that one in three Singaporeans suffer from moderate to severe OSA.
With that in mind and in line with World Sleep Day last Friday, Dutch electronics giant Philips launched South-east Asia's first Sleep and Respiratory Education Centre at Philips Apac Centre last Tuesday to train healthcare professionals in the region to better diagnose and treat sleep disorders.
The 102 sq m facility includes a mock-up of a bedroom to observe patients' sleeping patterns and a doctor's consultation room.
It also features an interactive room that uses virtual reality to simulate abnormal sleep patterns patients may experience, such as limb movements, rapid eye movements and respiratory difficulties.
At the event, Dr Han noted that Asians, particularly Chinese and Malays, are more prone to developing OSA.
"Although OSA is not specific to Asia, there is a higher rate and severity compared to Western populations.
"Asians have recessed facial profiles that narrow the upper airway, which is narrow to begin with," he said.
That means their airway remains blocked despite attempts to breathe, resulting in low oxygen levels, gasping and snoring.
"It really affects a person's quality of life because they will not feel well-rested. That aggravates sleep deprivation, which is the most common sleep disorder here," he said.
Poor sleep quality, combined with constant oxygen starvation, may lead to other health problems, like depression, heart disease, glaucoma or even sudden cardiac death.
While it is difficult to be completely cured of OSA, there are some preventive measures that can be taken.
First, Dr Han said people can sleep on their sides to keep their airways open.
They should also develop good sleeping habits, such as ensuring they have seven to nine hours of sleep daily.
"We tend to neglect sleep and take it for granted. But it is important to develop good sleeping habits to help with OSA and other sleep disorders. Awareness is the first step to solving this problem," he said.
Philips country manager Ivy Lai added: "Sleep, like good nutrition and regular exercise, is a key pillar to our overall health.
"With the demand for sleep medicine across the region, we see the need to have more sleep-qualified professionals in South-east Asia to make sleep diagnoses, (to make) treatment training and education more accessible to healthcare professionals and to raise the awareness of the need for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in our society."