Stop sleep problems from ruining your relationship

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What would you do if your bed partner constantly snored almost as loud as a lawnmower?

Nearly a third of Australian adults do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and the cause is often a sleep disorder suffered by the person on the other side of the bed.

Increasingly, people at the end of their tether after years of such 'secondary' sleep loss are sending their nocturnally-noisy loved ones to specialist clinics.

Adelaide's Burnside Sleep Centre, one of the organisations celebrating World Sleep Day on Friday 16 March, had almost 1,600 admissions last year.

Its staff once recorded a snore registering 90 decibels – not much quieter than the 96 decibels of a petrol lawn mower, and louder than a vacuum cleaner.

“Many of the sleep disorders that impact a sleep partner have been going on for a long time and have become major sticking points in a relationship,” said Renee Galka, Burnside's principal sleep technician.

“We see lots of people (usually men) who have been sent packing to the sleep centre by their long-suffering partners,” she added.

About 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women have at least mild snoring on some nights, according to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, while 15 percent of all people snore most nights – most commonly those who are middle-aged.

People whose sleep quality is compromised by their partner's chronic snoring may suffer long-term health problems, which can affect their work and impair ability to drive or safely operate machinery. Research has shown there are physiological similarities between the effects of lack of sleep and those associated with blood-alcohol content.

Purpose-built as part of the redevelopment of Burnside Hospital in 2002, the centre conducts on-site overnight studies to diagnose sleep disorders or lifestyle factors, which can then be treated.

Patients undergoing a sleep study – also known as a polysomnogram – will have small sensors applied to the skin of the scalp, chest, finger and legs, enabling precise monitoring of a range of functions including oxygen levels, breathing, brainwave activity, and eye and leg movements.

“In the past I had a day study elsewhere and it was nowhere as professionally run as this group,” one patient said after a stay at Burnside in January 2018. “We have finally gotten to the bottom of my sleep issues and it has been an absolute life-changer.”

Last year the centre's sleep technicians exceeded international benchmarks for accuracy – and also beat Australian average lab results –  in an evaluation by external testing agency QSleep.

Common sleep disorders its patients face include:

Snoring: Caused by a narrowing at the back of the throat which can make the tissues surrounding the opening vibrate. The narrower the airway, the louder the snoring becomes. It can often be an indicator of a more serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

Restless Leg Syndrome: Sufferers often report a “creeping” or “crawling” sensation in the legs, which is relieved with movement. Symptoms are most commonly experienced when the person is lying down and trying to relax. Most people with RLS have difficulty falling and remaining asleep.

Periodic Limb Movement: This related disorder often also affects RLS sufferers. It is characterised by involuntary limb movements during sleep, every 10 to 60 seconds. Some people may experience hundreds of such movements per night, waking them and also disturbing the sleep of their bed partner.

Parasomnias: This covers a variety of unusual physiological and behavioural phenomena occurring during sleep, ranging from walking, talking, eating and even sex, plus night terrors. Some people act out their dreams, which can be violent and cause injury.

To mark World Sleep Day, Burnside has a list of seven tips to help you get a better night's rest.

For more information on sleep disorders and treatment, visit its website.

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