Snoring can appear to be a relatively harmless, if often intensely irritating failing in a partner or loved one. But severe snoring and sleep apnoea, can cause serious long-term health risks that are no laughing matter, as well as potentially become a health and safety risk in the workplace. National Stop Snoring Week highlights the issues.
Employee health and wellbeing – poor sleep is no laughing matter, stop snoring!
Snoring – it’s irritating but harmless, right? Wrong. National Stop Snoring Week this month, from 23-27 April, will put a much-needed spotlight on this condition, including highlighting the risks that severe snoring and sleep apnoea can pose to health and the risks it potentially creates around health and safety.
The British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (BSSAA) estimates that some 41% of the UK population – or 15 million people – snores.
We may assume it’s just part and parcel of everyday life and to an extent it is. But, as the Health and Safety Executive has long made clear, fatigue needs to be managed in the workplace like any other hazard.
It’s important employers do not underestimate the risks of fatigue, especially in the context of shift working, safety-critical working environments and for people who need to drive for work. More widely, a lack of sleep (or “good” sleep) can harm concentration, performance and productivity.
Serious health conditions
Just as seriously, people with poorly-controlled obstructive sleep apnoea can be at greater risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension), having a stroke or heart attack, developing an irregular heartbeat – such as atrial fibrillation, and developing type 2 diabetes, although the links between poor sleep, obesity and diabetes are not yet completely understood.
What, then, can employers do?
There are practical things employers can do, such as looking at the hours people are being expected to work (especially if it involves shift-working) and ensuring this is well-managed and planned, with regular breaks and proper downtime built in.
Employers can – and should – be monitoring and risk managing how much employees are driving for work, and whether this is becoming excessive or onerous.
There is also an important health education piece here, which brings us full circle. Precisely because snoring and sleep problems – whether sleep apnoea or insomnia – are so common, people can simply assume it is something they, or their partner, has to live with, when there may in fact be solutions available.
The BSSAA, for example, highlights how lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol can put people at increased risk of sleep apnoea, and yet these are behaviours that can often be changed.
There may be solutions a GP can provide, such as nasal dilators, sprays or even mouth shields. There is also a range of mechanical solutions to manage sleep apnoea, such as the Mandibular Advancement Device.
It stands to reason therefore that a date in the calendar such as National Stop Snoring Week is a great opportunity to kickstart discussion, debate and education on both the perils and dangers of snoring and the solutions that may be available.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, argues: “Poor sleeping and fatigue are serious dangers in the workplace, as well as having the potential to put people at greater risk of long-term health conditions.
“All of us have a bad night now and again, but if it becomes commonplace or, like sleep apnoea, starts to affect our day-to-day abilities, performance and safety, then it is something that needs to be addressed. Employers are well-placed to kickstart these conversations, and to offer advice and solutions.”