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Finding New Ways to Diagnose Sleep Apnea

For many couples, nighttime can be stressful because of a snoring spouse. It may seem like just an annoying habit, but snoring can be a sign of something more serious, such as sleep apnea. If that's the case, it could be time to seek professional treatment.

Using Smartphones to Diagnose Sleep Apnea

Researchers from Osaka University in Japan have developed a new method for diagnosing sleep disorders. Using machine learning, sleep patterns can be studied at home with the use of simple smartphone technology, which the research team hopes will lead to more people being properly diagnosed and treated.

One of the main reasons researchers decided to focus on an at-home diagnostic tool is due to our bodies' reaction to our sleeping environment. They believe that sleep testing centers alter our normal, nightly environment in which we are comfortable, and this likely alters our sleep patterns during tests.

This new research is still far from a certified form of diagnosing a sleeping disorder, but further studies and trials are being conducted. The researchers also hope to use this technology to help make recommendations for a sleep environment that is tailored to an individual's sleep pattern, giving people the perfect lighting conditions and room temperatures for their best night's rest.

Is Sleep Apnea Underdiagnosed?

Sleep apnea is highly underdiagnosed, according to Dr. David Buck, DDS, of Balance Epigenetic Orthodontics in Lynwood, Washington.

Buck is an expert on sleep apnea and has been working to develop a cure for decades. He believes an underdeveloped jaw is the key component in obstructive sleep apnea in particular.

"When the jaw is underdeveloped, there is not enough space for air to move as the tongue falls back and the soft tissues around the throat collapse during sleep," he said. "Using epigenetics to help the jaw reach its true, intended growth is helping our patients finally find relief from sleep apnea for good."

Very little research exists on the diagnosis and underdiagnosis of sleep apnea in the United States among the general population. However, studies do confirm that underdiagnosis is occurring in women, heart patients and bariatric surgery patients. Many medical professionals such as Buck believe that many people with sleep apnea are unaware they have it.

"Because the symptoms are sometimes vague and almost always occur during sleep when we are not conscious of anything happening, it makes sense that so many Americans are completely unaware anything is wrong," said Buck. "Most patients don’t even recall episodes where they wake up gasping for air when mentioned by their spouses or sleep mates."

Taking Steps to Improve Diagnosis Rates 

Medical professionals believe more public awareness, different diagnostic options such as the one being studied at Osaka University and a change in the assumptions made by doctors about who the typical sleep apnea patient is should all be addressed in order to treat more patients with undiagnosed sleep apnea.

"For years, the typical sleep apnea patient was a middle-aged, overweight male," Buck said. "We have to start looking at everyone, male or female, overweight or fit, as potential sleep apnea patients so that more than just overweight, middle-aged men are being sent for testing."

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