A HUNTER researcher has helped develop a new kind of bed that could put an end to snoring – and completely transform the way humans sleep.
Lying on the belly rather than the back could be a simple solution for sufferers of sleep apnoea and severe snoring.
Professor Michael Nilsson, the director of Hunter Medical Research Institute, has teamed up with researchers in Sweden to develop a t-shaped pillow and layered and angled foam mattress.
The bed system has shown promising results in a clinical trial, reducing sleep apnoea episodes by 50 per cent and “dramatically” reducing snoring.
Apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat come together or collapse during sleep, blocking off the upper part of the airway.
It can lead to disturbances hundreds of times a night and one in five adults are thought to be affected to some extent.
Professor Nilsson, a neuroscientist and stroke rehabilitation researcher, said that a large proportion of animals – apart from humans and monkeys - lie on their bellies when getting some shut eye.
“Sleeping on the back, that’s probably developed over history because of social habits,” he said.
“The idea came up a few years ago when we studied a few cases of severe sleep apnoea and a case report told us they had tried to sleep on their belly.
“We noticed that very little had been done to prove the benefits of sleeping this way.
“The problem is bedding and beds we currently have don’t allow for comfortable sleeping on your belly generally and you move around a lot.”
Present options for treating apnoea include a breathing mask and a mandular splint which holds the jaw in place – both effective but somewhat uncomfortable to use.
Professor Nilsson said people using the new mattress went from lying on their backs for 142 minutes a night to less than a minute.
He said this had provided equivalent of better results to using a breathing mask.
“The participants took four to seven days to adapt to the new situation,” he explained.
“They were a bit uncomfortable in the beginning but they swear by it now and all of them have decided long after the study finished to continue to sleep on it.”
Poor sleeping patterns could increase the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes and other diseases, Professor Nilsson said.
The bed has already become available commercially in Sweden with plans to also bring it to Australia.
There are also hopes to have the mattress classified as a medical device for use in acute-care hospital wards.