There’s nothing worse than feeling tired and sluggish after a restless night of sleep and with around 936 million people worldwide impacted by obstructive sleep apnoea, increasing evidence shows that poor posture and the way people use technology could be making the issue even worse for some people. Obstructive sleep apnoea causes muscles and soft tissues in the throat to relax, creating a blockage which causes a lack of oxygen entering the body. This in turn causes sufferers to wake up repeatedly throughout the night because there are periods where they’re not breathing.
The condition can be caused by an array of factors including obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, certain health issues and medication, other obstructions in the airways and even a person’s genetics, but research also shows that poor posture is another major risk factor. A study published in the European Journal of Orthodontics found that many patients with obstructive sleep apnoea also tend tilt their heads forward and have worse posture, which can cause their throats to tighten up. Other research shows that even bad posture when people are sleeping could increase the risk of them experiencing sleep apnoea.
“When we have bad posture, we’re actually restricting our lung capacity up to 30 per cent,” Dr Vincent Candrawinata, scientist of the University of Newcastle and technical director of Renovatio, tells Starts at 60. “It means we have 30 per cent oxygen less throughout the day and that can be really bad for the whole body and brain.”
While sitting up straighter and avoiding hunching as much as possible can help, Candrawinata says technology and the way we use it is contributing to poorer posture, which could also be worsening sleep apnoea. He says that people need to change the way they interact with smartphones, tablets and e-books – especially if these devices are being used in bed.
“Bed isn’t the thing for people to sit or lean on. Over time it can be the perfect recipe for bad posture – especially at an older age,” Candrawinata says. “When we’re holding our gadget, we’re holding our neck down without any support. That over time can ascend to our spine and that can cause a lot of problems, not only breathing, but also inflammation in our neck area. It can be very painful.”
There are various ways people can retrain themselves to practice good posture. The first is to try and sit in a chair that has back support. If you’re sitting on the edge of your bed without back support, you’re more likely to hunch over to view a device on your lap.
Similarly, there are a number of accessories and stands that make it easier for people to use their device at a more upright position. In other cases, posture can be caused by injury, genetics, other health conditions and even the footwear people wear, so it may be best to talk with a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor about whether your specific situation could be causing sleep apnoea.
While there’s growing evidence that poor posture is triggering sleep apnoea in some people, it’s important to note that not all cases are caused by it. Where sleep apnoea is the result of genetic makeup or the natural way a person’s airway is structured, people may need to consider treatments such as CPAP machines that blast positive air pressure into the airways when they sleep, or even surgery.
Still, Candrawinata says screen time and sleep don’t mix and even in patients who don’t have sleep apnoea, using digital devices in bed isn’t recommended. He says the blue light our devices emit can delay the release of sleep-inducing hormones, which increase alertness and reset the body’s internal clock to a later time.
“The blue light emitted from the screen is signalling our brain to know it’s not time to sleep yet,” Candrawinata explains. “It’s still bright, it’s still time to be active.”
Instead, people should use other tools to help them fall asleep such as reading traditional books instead of e-books, practicing meditation, journaling before bed to clear the mind and avoiding sugar and caffeine before sleep.
“Sleep is where our body repairs itself,” Candrawinata says. “When people don’t sleep enough or don’t have a good enough quality of sleep, problems can arise. Things like fatigue syndrome, cardiovascular disorders, brain function issues, as well as digestive issues.”
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