Although your snoring leads to many sleepless nights for your sleep partner and has made you the butt of many jokes, snoring is no joking matter. According to SleepApnea.org, snoring is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea — a potentially serious sleep disorder in which one’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly throughout the night. Breathing pauses can last several seconds and in severe cases, breathing pauses can occur 30 times or more an hour. Approximately 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.
The most common form of sleep apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); a condition in which the muscle in the back of the throat collapse during sleep, blocking the airway. As your brain receives the signal that something is amiss, it partially awakens to alert your body that it needs to breathe. This is what causes the loud gasping, choking or snorting sounds someone makes as they try to take a deep enough breathe to fight past the obstruction. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
I snore; does that mean I have sleep apnea?
Not necessarily. While most people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea snore, not all those who snore have sleep apnea. Snoring alone isn’t considered an indicator that you have sleep apnea. Other symptoms of OSA include:
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
- Morning headaches
- Intermittent pauses in your breathing as you sleep that’s noticed by your partner
- Feeling depressed or having mood swings
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
There are several reasons unrelated to sleep apnea that can cause snoring. These include:
- Being overweight: people who are overweight may have extra tissue in the back of their throat.
- Physical characteristics: nasal polyps, deviated septum and enlarged adenoids.
- Sinus and nasal congestion due to a cold, upper respiratory infection or allergies.
- Alcohol consumption: alcohol relaxes the throat muscles.
- Sleep position: sleeping on your back can cause the flesh in your throat to relax, leading to a blocked airway.
If you are concerned about your snoring, seek the advice of your doctor. He or she will be able to assess your symptoms and rule out whether or not you may have sleep apnea. If your doctor suspects you do, you’ll be advised to undergo a sleep study. Although being diagnosed with sleep apnea sounds scary, the good news is that treatment is available. Lifestyle changes and breathing devices, such as CPAP machines, have all been proven to be successful.