It turns out that the mini pigs you might see somewhere such as Tonkaway Ranch aren’t just cute, they can also serve a useful purpose in medical research. A recent study has found that obese Yucatan mini pigs experience naturally-occurring sleep apnea, making them excellent candidates for studying possible causes and treatments for sleep apnea in humans.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring.
- Gasping for air during sleep.
- Trouble staying asleep.
- Awaking with a dry mouth.
- Morning headache.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Difficulty paying attention.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax, blocking the airway as you try to breathe in. Because you’re not getting enough oxygen, your brain briefly rouses you in order to reopen the airway. Most of the time, these awakenings are so brief you don’t remember them the next morning.
This pattern can repeat itself anywhere from five to 30 times per hour, impeding your ability to get a night of restful sleep.
About the Study
The study, published in the journal Heliyon in January of this year, was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington. The purpose of the study was to better understand the mechanisms behind sleep apnea, because current treatments are cumbersome and oftentimes invasive.
It turns out, pigs provide the perfect model of naturally-occurring sleep apnea. This is because they are comparable in both size and airway structure to humans. Though the pigs are “mini,” at a healthy weight they still weigh approximately 100 lbs. Other animal models need to be made to gain weight or have their airway blocked in order to prompt sleep apnea, but pigs experience it naturally.
During the study, the researchers observed:
- Multiple episodes of sleep apnea per hour in both obese pigs and one normal-weight pig under sedation.
- As many as 35 episodes per hour in both obese pigs during normal sleep.
According to researchers, “Despite our findings, the sleep apnea mechanism is still not quite understood… There are of course anatomic reasons, but the functional reasons behind it are still up for debate.” For more information about sleep apnea or to schedule an appointment with a sleep expert, call Texas ENT & Allergy today.