Serious Sleep Problems revealed in Goodnight Britain

One of the most heavily watched programmes to be shown on BBC these last few weeks has been Goodnight Britain – a long overdue insight into unusual, but common, sleeping habits. It was a programme that was reviewed in depth by the Press with a widely ranging variety of responses.

According to the documentary, half a million Britons suffer from parasomnia, the technical term for sleep-walking, talking, and in the case of one woman featured on the programme, screaming and running about in the belief that you are being assaulted. I sympathise with the lady’s housemate, as both my stepdaughters are afflicted with this condition, but not to such an extreme I’m glad to say.

The programme also tackled sufferers with very common problem sleep behaviours such as snoring and insomnia. The first step involved fitting out their homes with night vision cameras, which were then closely monitored by two sleep experts – who weirdly never seemed to need any sleep – who were concealed nearby in their ‘sleep-mobile’.

Initial reactions were of course predictable and to begin with it was hard not to see the funny side of the unusual night-time activity. Snoring, for instance, has always been a subject of choice for our comedians.

However the show soon highlighted the serious side of sleeping and its various problems, as one participant was suspended from his job as a van driver due to his suffering from OSN – or obstructive sleep apnoea, a terrifying condition in which the muscles and soft tissue in the back of the throat collapse inwards during sleep, blocking the airway, and meaning that he stopped breathing in between snores.

As a result of his diagnosis, he was asked to notify the DVLA and to stop driving for a period of four weeks while he is treated “What am I going to do now,’ he asked, “I’ve done this job for 22 years and it’s all I know”.

But due to treatment there is a happy ending. At the end of this four-week period his GP notified the DVLA that he is now safe to drive and he is able to resume driving. He goes on to develop his career and achieve his HGV Class 2 licence.

It became very apparent that few knew they had a sleep condition or disorder. However, often their partner did. “Me, I don’t snore” is the usual answer. Even those who have accepted that they do are not aware how much it can affect their health, causing strokes, diabetes and other serious illnesses. In fact we are talking very high percentages of the population – a real problem – and often ignored in the United Kingdom – whereas in Australia, Canada and the United States it is taken very seriously and is a specialist treatment area with both Doctor and Dentist.

It is estimated that a quarter of the UK population suffer sleeping difficulties and over 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were issued in Britain last year alone. Commentator Sian Williams described Britain as “ a nation in the grip of a sleep crisis” – a crisis that costs the NHS £1.6 billion last year just for prescriptions and sleeping pills alone – let alone the more serious results that can happen. Yet anyone who’s ever suffered from insomnia, however fitfully, knows that it’s a very miserable experience.

Sleep disorders affect many people – whether it’s snoring, sleep walking, insomnia or sleep apnoea – so if you feel you have a serious problem seek medical advice.

For the vast majority of poor sleepers, however, just making some simple improvements to their bedtime routine and environment will boost sleep quality.

For others, there are many NHS approved solutions out there including MAD’s – dental mouthpieces for want of a better term, Chinstraps and not only are they inexpensive and readily available – there is overwhelming evidence that they work, saving thousands from both short term sleep problems but more importantly, serious long term health problems, or even sudden death.

The key thing si to know if you are a sufferer – and if so – seek expert medical advice on what to do next. Do not ignore it.

The British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association has launched a UK-wide survey into public awareness of the condition, sleep apnoea. The aim is to test public knowledge about signs, symptoms and health risks associated with the condition.

To make this the biggest survey yet it needs adult participants from all walks of life to take part. Whether you have this condition or think you have it, or somebody you know has it, or even if you don’t know anything at all, they would like to hear from you.

The survey will run until the end of January 2013 and the results will be published during next year’s regular National Stop Snoring Week from 22 – 27 April 2013.

To test your knowledge visit www.sleepapnoeasurvey.org.uk

By John Redfern