Sleep Disorders


Story Details

Annette Rowlands was one of 1.5 million Australians dreaming of a good night's sleep. For 17 long years Annette averaged just 1 to 2 hours sleep a night and now a breakthrough treatment has ended her sleepless nights.

Annette suffered the dangerous condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea which results in her upper airway closing over hundreds of times a night. Then as part of a medical trial Annette was surgically implanted with a pacemaker style device which sends a jolt of electricity to a patient's tongue moving it forward during sleep and opening the airway ensuring restful slumber.

Sleep specialist Dr Maree Barnes said, "We are pretty excited about it. There are about 60% of patients who are not currently able to be treated with the therapies that we have available to us at the moment".

At the Austin Hospital's sleep laboratory Patrick is being given new hope. Patrick is a shift worker and he too suffers from sleep apnoea and has an implant.

Sleep disorders like Patrick's are costing the economy more than $5 billion a year in health care and sufferers' quality of life and health badly affected, as are bed partners like Annette's husband Denis

Strategies like tennis balls and airway pressure machines with face masks not always a solution

Denis said, "It was like waking up next to Darth Vader you wake up and your missus got this mask on her face and air bubbles are going and the noise of the compressor and all that".

Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington, of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre is concerned too many sufferers are relying on tranquilisers. He said, "More biologically things such as blood pressure can go up over time if you are not sleeping well and there are links with cardiovascular disease for long standing poor sleep. The use of sleeping pills is gradually increasing and its reflects somewhat that sleep disorders are increasing and a greater expectation of I'm busy and I don't have time for not sleeping at night.".

With 5 million sleeping pill prescriptions handed out every year, experts say for a natural night's sleep, insomniacs should avoid tea and coffee before bed, avoid exercise before sleeping, relax perhaps with a warm bath and only go to bed when sleepy.

But for Annette Rowlands modern science has provided the solution

She said, "Now I'm sleeping 4.5 to 5 hours solid block every night and that is enough for me then I can go back to sleep a bit but I am getting the solid sleep it works and it works well for me anyway so it is all good".

Dr Barnes said, "We're going to do 25 patients we are finished enrolling our patients in this trial and those data will be combined with the data from Sydney at Westmead that is also doing the research trial and about 15 sites in the US".

Please note the Austin Hospital is not looking for trail participants.

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