Sleeping may be bad for your health — the wrong kind of sleep that is — according to Milton Park-based ResMed.

As many as one in five of us may suffer from some sort of sleep disorder — the most common being sleep apnoea, a condition in which breathing stops for ten seconds or more, many times a night.

Try holding your breath for ten seconds, then again, and again. You will soon realise what a strain this is putting on your heart.

A subsidiary of an Australian/US joint listed parent company, ResMed has been on Milton Park for the last 18 years. Its story started five years earlier with a straight medtech collaboration with the University of Sydney.

“In those early days, we had no idea what sleep did or its restorative functions,” explained vice president Ross Sommerville.

“Although the clinical evidence is still building, we are now certain that disturbed sleep is central to a lot of health problems.

“In excess of half of all heart failure patients and more than two-thirds of stroke patients have sleep apnoea. And there are now clear and growing links to hypertension, diabetes and obesity.”

Overweight, middle-aged men and women post-menopause are often most at risk. Snoring may be an early sign. A partner may notice that breathing stops during the night.

Patients with mild-to-moderate apnoea find it hard to concentrate or stay awake during the day. Sometimes this can lead to disastrous consequences.

In the worst cases, sufferers may lose concentration or fall asleep while driving, flying planes or operating machinery, putting lives at risk.

The company was built around a therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) in which the patient’s upper airway collapses many times during sleep.

ResMed’s treatment involves the patient wearing a small mask or nasal pillows connected to a bedside device. The device monitors breathing and gently delivers pressurised air which restores a regular breathing pattern.

Mr Somerville said: “ResMed is still committed to innovative research and our pipeline is full of patents and technologies.

“We’re recognised as global leaders in sleep disorders, in a great growth area. We put about eight per cent of our gross sales back into research and development which is high relative to most companies in our field.”

Central Sleep Apnoea (CSA), a condition in which the airway is open but the patient isn’t breathing, is also under ResMed’s microscope.

”For some reason, the brain fails to tell the lungs to breathe,” Mr Somerville added.

“CSA is often associated with heart failure, so we’re funding a major, international treatment study of more than 1,300 heart failure patients, some in the UK, to see if we can better understand the CSA link. It’s fascinating to think our respiratory therapy may actually provide an effective cardiology treatment.

“The algorithms are really the clever part in the CSA device. It recognises the patient is not breathing, although the airway is open.

“The device watches every breath of the patient and delivers pressurised air when that patient needs extra help or stops breathing.

“After a couple of minutes, the brain is reset and starts to tell the lungs to breathe again and normal breathing is restored. You could call it brain training.”

The study also builds on important research conducted by the team of John Stradling — Emeritus Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital.

His team was one of the first to demonstrate that treating sleep apnoea effectively reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

Treatment is pretty much for life. ResMed’s health economics research has shown that treating sleep disorders is highly cost effective, the main cost savings being the reduction in motor vehicle accidents and stroke prevention.

Of all NHS-funded healthcare programmes, it ranks highly on the cost-effectiveness scale along with stopping smoking.

The group’s global sales last year were about £930m. Most of ResMed’s product development and manufacturing remains in Sydney, but the corporate head office is now in San Diego.

Milton Park is the headquarters for the company’s UK and Ireland business. It is also the base for some of its European functions and now has 65 staff.

“We are still a growth company,” added Mr Sommerville.

“One of our biggest barriers to growth, particularly in the UK, is a lack of awareness. Only about two hours of a GP’s training is devoted to sleep disorders so many are unlikely to recognise a sleep disorder or distinguish the associated fatigue from depression or natural tiredness.

Consequently, sleep disorders are undertreated. We have been doing some really important work with the British Lung Foundation over the last couple of years, as a means of spreading the message.”

Currently, diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders is largely through the NHS.

But more and more people are interested in understanding their condition and buying equipment privately. As well as its website, ResMed has clinics at its Milton Park office and London to support patients.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnoea, visit This page is compiled by OBN