CWRU researchers find snoring associated with head shape

January 04, 2002

CLEVELAND--If a nightly symphony of snorers sleeps in your home, chances are they inherited the family's round-shaped head.

Six researchers at Case Western Reserve University have used the shape of a person's head as one indicator of potential problems with sleep apnea, a chronic form of snoring. Round-headed individuals tend to interrupt a good night's sleep with snoring more than long, thin-faced people.

Prior to the study such factors as age, sex, and obesity were used as predictors for chronic snoring, according to Mark Hans, chair of the Department of Orthodontics at the CWRU School of Dentistry.

As an orthodontist, Hans studies face shape and how it can be used in a variety of ways from forensic dentistry to the shape of the head's role in overall good health.

Chronic snoring, also known as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), is a medical condition, characterized by the blockage of the air passage at the back of the mouth during sleep. This blockage can cause a person to stop breathing hundreds of times a night from seconds to as long as two minutes and intermittently wake up. Chronic snoring can lead to cardiovascular problems or accidents associated with inattention due to sleep deprivation.

Hans was lead researcher for the study, "Subgrouping Persons with Snoring and/or Apnea by Using Anthropometric and Cephalometric Measures." Sleeping and Breathing, the international journal of the Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, published the article in a recent issue.

In the first phase of the two-part study, researchers examined craniofacial characteristics of 60 known snorers and compared their features with 60 individuals with little history of snoring or a low respiratory disturbance index. -more- CWRU Researchers Find Snoring Associated With Head Shape...add one

The researchers examined 25 different parts of the face and did measurements from the front teeth to the esophagus, the length from the tip of the nose to the rear of the nasal passage, and the distance from the top of the cheek bone to the bottom of the jaw. Coupled with other characteristics of a snorer, these measurements formed the new craniofacial risk index (CRI). They constructed the CRI that included age, body mass index, and 14 cephalometric measures.

In the second part of the study, an investigator, unaware of the individual's snoring history, examined the facial features of 19 heavy snorers and 47 light or non-snorers. Using the new CRI, the researcher tested the hypothesis that head shape could predict sleep apnea problems. Approximately 75 percent of the time, the investigator was able to predict whether the individual was a snorer.

In addition to reducing the cardiovascular problems and accidents snorers suffer, one of the benefits of the study, according to Hans, is that head shape can now be used to find new ways to lower the fortissimo of the nightly music to a soft lullaby.

Case Western Reserve University

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