Singing offers snorers a chance to sleep in peace

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The Independent Online

Playing the didgeridoo can help. So can staying off cheese or changing your pillow. Now singing has been added to the growing list of cures for snoring.

An octogenarian American, Charley Hupp, was so delighted by the silencing of his nocturnal noise that he flew 5,000 miles across the Atlantic to thank his saviour - Devon singing coach Alise Ojay.

Mrs Ojay, from Exeter, had sold Mr Hupp her course of vocal exercises that aim to cure snoring by strengthening the throat muscles.

Mr Hupp, 82, a retired research scientist from Arizona, had been suffering from sleep apnoea, a form of severe snoring, for eight years. Last year he sought medical help and was given a device involving a mask but he found it too cumbersome. He heard about Mrs Ojay's singing technique on a BBC report on American radio.

Her CD, Singing for Snorers, has sold 1,000 copies. It put an end to Mr Hupp's snoring within a month, he says, much to the relief of his wife Toni, 79. The couple flew with their son, Schuyler, to thank Mrs Ojay in person. Mr Hupp said: "I feel like I'm reborn. I feel like two million dollars and it's all thanks to this remarkable lady. Without her I would have been too ill to make this trip."

Mrs Ojay, 43, said: "I'm thrilled - I've never had such a strong reaction from someone who has used the technique."

A two-year clinical trial of Mrs Ojay's exercises began last year at the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. Half of 60 chronic and mild snorers will sing the exercises for three months while the control group will not sing.

Mrs Ojay has joined a booming industry providing cures to the estimated three-and-a-half million snorers in Britain.

Commercial cures include nasal strips, plastic splints known as mandibular advancement devices and CPAP air masks like the one tried by Mr Hupp.

In severe cases, surgeons can remove nasal polyps, straighten crooked noses and cut out soft throat tissue.

Snoring happens when the soft muscles of the throat (which form a "muscle bag") flop onto each other, and restrict the flow of oxygen to our bodies.

"We all snore to some extent and it's pretty harmless for most of us," said Professor Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University.

Men, the overweight and the old and those who drink or smoke are more likely to snore.

Within families snoring can be a subject of teasing but for sufferers it can be a torment with disastrous consequences for their personal and work lives.

Professor Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through the Science of Sleep, said: "They get very distressed by the whole thing. It's disturbing their marriage and very often the partner has to sleep in the other room. Snoring is often treated as being a bit funny... but sleepiness the next day can affect driving. There may well be an association with cardiovascular disease and strokes."

Cures for snoring

Nasal Strips

Popularised by the footballer Robbie Fowler, nasal strips work by lifting the nostrils to increase the passageway behind the nostrils. They are a simple non-surgical method of improving air flow. A pack of 20 costs about £9. Nasal decongestants can also help.

Pillows

Posture can affect snoring. Experts advise trying to sleep without a pillow. If a pillow is necessary, use a thinner one. Elevating a bed by placing rolled-up towels under the head of the mattress may also improve the sleep position. Avoid sleeping on your back by sewing a tennis ball into a makeshift pocket on the back of your pyjamas.

Stop Smoking

Stopping smoking reduces the production of mucus that in turn clogs up the throat. Dairy products can also keep mucus from draining properly. Doctors advise overweight snorers slim down and drinkers to reduce consumption of alcohol, which relaxes the soft palate and other fatty muscles.

Masks

Patients can try an air mask - a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device that fits over the head and supplies extra oxygen from an air machine. Another contraption is the mandibular repositioning device that fits over the teeth, much like an athletic mouth guard.

Surgery

In severe cases surgeons can operate, to remove fatty tissue in the throat or jaw, reposition the nose or remove tonsils. This cuts out the problem but carries all the risks of surgery.

Didgeridoo

Playing a didgeridoo can reduce the collapsibility of the upper airways, a study in the British Medical Journal found last year. Twenty-five adult patients were given lessons in the Aboriginal wind instrument and practised at home for four months. Improvements were found in daytime sleepiness, sleep quality, partner rating of sleep disturbance and quality of life. Conclusion: regular playing of the didgeridoo is effective for treating patients with moderate sleep apnoea.

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