Sleep Study

Reporter: Andrea Burns

Sleep apnoea affects thousands of Australians and it can be debilitating. "The number of times that people can wake up during sleep ranges from anywhere from around 5 times an hour up to 100 times an hour" Research fellow Jason Kirkness says broken sleep leads to an increased risk of stroke , cardiovascular disease , depression and workplace accidents.

"Everything's an effort, I suppose I'd better get up and do the dishes, suppose I'd better go and have a shower, suppose I'd better do this assignment" Apnea sufferers Karen Finnegan and Ron Edmiston are putting their bodies under this giant microscope all in the quest for a good night's sleep.

Here at the University of Western Australia, this machine gives a computer print out of exactly where fat is stored on the body. At Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital's Sleep Disorders Unit, Dr Kirkness is conducting a study to determine whether WHERE fat lies could be a cause of the sleep apnea. He wants to know if people who are fat around their necks or stomachs are more likely to develop apnoea than people who carry extra weight elsewhere

Jason says "what we're looking at is the relationship between obesity, which is one of the biggest risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea and also the body fat distribution so if you have a big tummy, versus if you have a big neck or mainly if you put weight mainly on your hips or thighs"

Twice as many men have sleep Apnea as women, "I think sleep apnoea is more prevalent in men than women cos of where the fat is deposited in their body" The scan shows Ron has the classic male shape - skinny legs, bigger middle, Karen's weight is spread across her stomach, hips and legs. But Jason Kirkness says stopping apnea may not be as simple as just losing weight.

As part of this study, patients will spend one night sleeping under observation, wired up in the hospital's sleep unit. The sleep-over will give researchers information about the patients' rest patterns and breathing. Data that will be combined with the body scan.

"Until it happens to you or somebody you know and then all of a sudden you start to talk to other people just how many people out there that have the condition" Ron Edmiston has been treated for apnoea for years, Karen Finnegan was diagnosed more recently. "I wasn't aware until I was complaining to the doctor about nodding off at the lights" Both thought their fatigue was just part of getting older. It's not. Researchers hope this study will give people like Karen and Ron back their sleep.

The Sleep Clinic featured in this story is located at Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital, Perth.