Could this simple strategy stop snoring and sleep apnoea?

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Have you ever started out looking for something on-line, got diverted, and then ended up at a completely unplanned and unrelated destination on the internet? I have to admit, for me, it happens a lot. It happened yesterday, in fact, when I was reading a piece about blood pressure treatment, and found myself clicking on an ad that took me here.

The site is selling what is essentially a strap that keeps the mouth closed during sleep. It is claimed to have the ability to stop snoring and sleep apnoea (see below). At first sight, it may look to many as a gimmick. The price also might seem steep. But before you reject this product, let me explain why I think it, and the idea behind it, at least deserve consideration.

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It’s believed that a major cause of snoring is when the soft palate at the back of the mouth blocks the entrance to the airways. This mostly happens when the mouth is open. If it’s bad enough, it may block the airways enough to stop breathing altogether for a few seconds or longer. This problem (sleep apnoea) is potentially a health hazard, and can cause people to wake feeling quite unrefreshed and even downright groggy, despite having slept for a good amount of time.

Even if someone does not snore, there’s a theoretical risk to breathing through an open mouth. This may increase the risk of ‘over-breathing’ (too much air going into and out of the lungs). The potential problem here is that it might cause carbon dioxide levels to drop to a lower level than is optimal. This can cause blood vessels to constrict but also means that less oxygen will be delivered to the tissues (if you’re interested in the physiology of this, look up ‘the Bohr effect’).

One reason for people breathing through their mouth, including at night, is a blocked nose. So, in the past, a lot of advice I have given about snoring has been geared to approaches to prevent nasal congestion. Eliminating or significantly cutting down on dairy products often helps (no, this is not an urban myth – I’ve found in practice that dairy is a quite common cause of nasal congestion, excess mucus and catarrh). Also, red wine quite commonly causes problems (apparently, it’s high in histamine, though the usually yeasty nature of this drink might not help either).

The thing is, though, even if someone’s nasal passages are beautifully clear, it is still possible for them to have their mouth drop open during sleep, particularly if they lie on their back. This, by the way, is the basis of an old remedy for snoring which involved sewing a tennis ball into the back of the sufferer’s pyjama jacket or nightdress. The idea is that lying on one’s back was made so uncomfortable that, even when asleep, the natural tendency would be to find another position.

Until today, the idea of dealing with snoring by doing something to keep the mouth shut did not occur to me. It probably should have, but it didn’t. And when I saw the ‘jaw supporter’ my instant reaction was not ‘what rubbish’ but ‘what a good idea and why didn’t I (or someone else) think of that soon?’

I have nothing to do with the company, haven’t trialled the product, and have no plans to either (I sleep with my mouth closed and don’t snore, I am reliably informed). However, my intuitive feeling about the product is that for people who snore and those with sleep apnoea, this product is in the ‘definitely worth a go’ category.

However, it also occurs to me that investing in this piece of kit may not be necessary at all. Ingenious and practical folks may want to fashion their own versions of the ‘jaw supporter’. Please send photos if you wish and feel free to share and personal snoring success stories below.[hr]

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