Killer Snores

Do you feel like a walking zombie? Often fall asleep in appropriate times and places? Always wake up feeling unrefreshed?  Are your sleeping patterns ruining your relationship with your partner? Perhaps you are suffering from a sleep disorder.

According to Dr Raymond Tan, Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist at Global Doctors Medical Centre and Secretary of the Sleep Disorders Association Malaysia, the most common sleep disorder affecting an estimated 7% of adult Malaysians or 1.9 mil people is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).


OSA is characterised by repeated cessation of breathing during sleep. People with OSA tend to wake up several times gasping for air, resulting in poor sleep quality that affects quality of life and productivity. Recent research reveals that OSA is also linked to increased risks of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and other serious health issues.

“OSA is three times more common in men than women,” says Dr Tan. It is also more prevalent among the elderly and the obese. “40% of diabetics tend to have OSA, whereas 70% of people who have heart disease or obesity are likely to have OSA. As obesity rates have doubled over the last 15 years, so have the rates of OSA,” he adds.

Apart from choking during sleep, loud snoring and restless sleep, people with OSA also tend to suffer from headaches, bed-wetting, stress, panic attacks, reduced sex drive and night sweating. OSA is categorised into mild, medium or severe, depending on the number of awakenings per night. Someone who wakes up more than 30 times a night is considered to have severe OSA.

“In children, the effects are more drastic because they are undergoing important growth milestones. Waking up more than 3 times a night is enough to create various problems including hyperactivity, heart problems, high blood pressure and learning disorders,” Dr Tan cautions.


Proper diagnosis is the first step towards treatment and cure. The challenge is most people with OSA are not aware they have a problem. One example was former Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was present the official launching of the Sleep Apnea Clinic at the Global Doctors Specialist Centre recently.

“I used to quarrel with my late wife whenever she chided me for dozing off at official events and ceremonies. The truth is I never realised I was asleep, until the media started drawing cartoons and branding me as the PM who ‘sleeps on the job’,” revealed Tun Abdullah, who initially attributed his daytime sleepiness to stress, fatigue and jet-lag.

He continued denying the problem for many years, until he met some doctors who advised him to undergo a sleep test. Under the watchful eyes of these specialists, he finally discovered he had chronic OSA and had to undergo surgery to correct his problem.

“What’s important is recognising the symptoms and seeking medical help,” he stresses. “It will not go away by itself if we just ignore it.”

At the Global Doctor’s Sleep Clinic, patients are strapped into the Alice 5 Sleep System amidst a comfortable sleep setting. Named after Alice in Wonderland, the system tracks heart and brain functions, breathing patterns, limb movements and general sleep quality for people of all ages including children. These assessment help determine the kind of sleep we get at night.


Once you are diagnosed with OSA, several treatment options are available to help improve your sleep and quality of life. They include:

Continous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP): Nasal mask that helps regulate breathing and improve sleep

Mandibular devices: Devices that are worn on the teeth at night to facilitate better air flow

Surgery: Includes adenotonsillectomy (removal of tonsils and adenoids) and nasal surgery

Pillar Procedure: Small surgery to place implants on the soft palate to relax its vibration, hence preventing snoring

Radiofrequency Somnoplasty: Using radiofrequency  to remove soft  tissues at the throat.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): Surgery to remove tonsils, adenoids and excess tissue at back of throat

Palatal Lift Procedure: Removal of one third of palate to lift palate and reduce snoring by 70%

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