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Snoring Gets More Complex

Photo taken by Kenn Kiser. The morguefile contains photographs freely contributed by many artists to be used in creative projects by visitors to the site.

Snoring is commonly caused by what scientists call sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing and the body has to do something to restart the rather vital process. There are two types.

Make that three.

Researchers have identified a new type they call "complex sleep apnea."

More than one-third of adults snore at least a few nights each week, according to the Mayo Clinic. Air flowing past relaxed tissues in your throat causes the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, creating those awful noises that keep your partner awake.

In obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form, the throat muscles relax and the airway is narrowed, momentarily cutting off breathing and resulting in noisy snoring. With central sleep apnea, the brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Stop Snoring!

Surgery works in some cases but does not help with all causes of snoring. People with obstructive sleep apnea aren't always good candidates for surgery, for example.

  • Lose weight
  • Sleep on your side
  • Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills
  • Try adhesive strips applied to the nose to open airways

The newly discovered complex variety is a combination of the other two.

Patients with complex sleep apnea at first appear to have obstructive sleep apnea and stop breathing 20 to 30 times per hour each night. For that problem, a continuous airway pressure machine, or CPAP, works like a pneumatic splint and can open a patient's airway. But in patients with complex sleep apnea, CPAP opens the airway but they still don't breathe right, and symptoms of central sleep apnea then crop up.

The findings will be published in the September issue of the journal Sleep.

"This phenomenon has been observed for years, but this study is the first attempt to categorize these people," said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler of the Mayo Clinic.

Researchers don't know why some people have complex sleep apnea, Morgenthaler said, and there is no effective treatment. Perhaps sufferers can manage to breathe easy or sleep well knowing that researchers continue to test breathing-assistance machines that might one day alleviate the symptoms.