Repeatedly zapping the legs with tiny electric currents could help ease heavy snoring.
The unlikely remedy involves stimulating the calf muscles with electricity for a couple of hours before bedtime, making muscles in the lower leg contract, even when sitting still.
This reduces the amount of fluid that accumulates in the legs when we sit or stand, and which travels up to the neck area when we lie down in bed. Once there, the fluid can worsen snoring.
Figures show that 41 per cent of UK adults regularly snore. The characteristic rasping sound is caused by tissues in the throat vibrating as we breathe in and out while we sleep.
As we fall asleep, the muscles in the roof of the mouth, tongue and throat relax, narrowing the space for air to pass through as we breathe.
For many people, this does not present a problem. But in some, especially those who have large fat deposits around the neck, the throat can narrow so much that the tissues in it vibrate.
Drinking alcohol, sleeping on the back and having a cold can all further narrow the airway.
Rostral shift — or gathering of fluid in the neck — is a significant factor in snoring, as it adds to the pressure on the upper airways during sleep.
During the day, fluid can accumulate in the blood vessels in the legs, as well as the spaces around cells (this is called interstitial fluid). When we lie down, the force of gravity means this fluid spreads around the body, accumulating in places like the neck, causing airways to narrow.
Rostral shift is a particular problem in patients with heart failure, as they often have a build-up of fluid due to the heart’s poor pumping capacity, but it can affect healthy adults, too.
Scientists at the University of Toronto wanted to see if stimulating the calf muscles with a mild current could reduce this fluid shift and ease snoring.
The idea is that the more these muscles contract, the more fluid is dispersed and the lower the chances of it draining into the neck area at night. Sixteen men with sleep apnoea either had just over two hours of stimulation, where electrodes were stuck to the calf muscles, or a sham treatment, where they wore the electrodes, but no current was used.
Researchers checked fluid levels in the legs and around the neck before the treatment. The men were then told to lie flat for an hour, after which fluid levels were checked again, before spending a whole night sleeping.
The results, in the journal Sleep Medicine, showed zapping the muscles — which feels like a mild tingling — reduced fluid accumulation in the legs by 46 per cent, and by 31 per cent in the neck when lying down. The men showed an average 15 per cent reduction in snoring severity.
The results were based on one session of stimulation. The researchers said repeat sessions could have much greater effects. They hope to carry out larger studies in the next year or two.
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert and a member of the British Sleep Society, said the technique could be a new way to treat snoring — if larger studies confirm that it works.
‘It’s plausible but we need better studies before it can be used as a treatment,’ he added.
He said the results showed little or no effect on sleep apnoea — a serious condition in which the walls of the throat narrow so much that breathing is interrupted through the night, causing sufferers to wake momentarily every few minutes.
Source: The Daily Mail