New nightly pill to end snoring being tested in United States

What if a single pill could help your whole household sleep better?

If you’re one of the many millions of Americans who snores — or suffer from sharing a space with a partner, parent or roommate who does — a new drug entering clinical trials in the United States could be a slumber saver.

A 2018 study based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that a once-a-night tablet which combines two non-sleep related drugs, effectively reduced snoring frequency for 20 research volunteers by 74% — from an average of 28.5 breathing interruptions per hour to just 7.5.

Two years later, the remarkably simple — but potentially revolutionary — therapy is being put to the test in a clinical trial sponsored by Apnimed, a company formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts to market findings from that 2018 study.

Snoring often occurs as facial muscles relax during sleep, creating a narrow opening for air to pass through for breathing. The rattling sound then comes from your mouth’s soft tissues vibrating as air forces its way in.

Almost everyone snores occasionally, but for 22 million people in the US, their snoring can be so severe that it deprives the sleeper of sufficient oxygen levels — a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, according to SleepApnea.org. Those most likely to have OSA are over the age of 40, overweight or regularly engage in heavy alcohol consumption.

Shot of a young woman covering her ears with a pillow while her husband snores in bed
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When traditional methods to reduce snoring fail, such as weight loss or side-sleeping to prevent airway blockage, patients must often resort to a breathing apparatus called the continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP. It requires sleepers to wear a mask or nosepiece, which is connected to a hose attached to a humidifier tank. The constantly circulating air helps keep your throat open without interruption.

Long-term oxygen deprivation associated with OSA can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and arrhythmia.

However, sleep scientists on the recent study have devised an unassuming combination of medications to treat OSA: atomoxetine, an ADHD drug, and oxybutynin, used to treat urinary incontinence. Researchers found not only did the drug cocktail reduce snoring, patients’ blood oxygen levels also increased significantly throughout the trial.

Researchers warn that the new treatment may not be without side effects, both physical and mental, and some quite serious. Oxybutynin, for example, more commonly causes abdominal discomfort and constipation, and atomoxetine has been associated with mood swings and suicidal thoughts, according to MedlinePlus.gov.

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