Ever been in that situation where a partner or family member snores in their sleep? Chances are you have! Almost everyone snores occasionally – whether from being in a certain position or being extremely fatigued. If everyone does it, why is it so bothersome and when does it become a concern for your health?

What causes snoring?

The auditory phenomena of snoring occurs when tissues in the nose or soft palate in the mouth vibrate against the airway when inhaling or exhaling.

Habitual snoring – snoring every night – is estimated to effect 45% of men and 30% of women. Thus it can be a significant problem, impacting other’s sleep quality in addition to your own.

What health conditions are associated with snoring?
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Seasonal allergies
Common Solutions for Snoring
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Try sleeping on your side instead of on your back
  • If congestion is the problem, try a saline nasal spray before bed
    • You can also ask your pharmacist for a recommendation for allergy medicines or decongestants
  • External nasal dilators, such as Breathe Right strips
    • Might help with nose snoring but not open-mouth snoring
Why do healthcare providers become concerned?

When snoring is particularly problematic and persistent, your health care provider may want to conduct further tests to rule-in or rule-out sleep apnea. Apnea is the medical term for a temporary pause in breathing. Your provider might order a sleep study for which you will need to stay overnight. While you sleep, polysomnography techniques will be used to record brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, your heart rate and breaths per minute, as well as eye and leg movements. All this information together can help assess the quality of your sleep and determine the severity of your sleeping problem.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

OSA is a condition of transient airway blockage while asleep during which the airway is momentarily closed and breathing is cut off. Most patients with OSA will struggle with symptoms of loud snoring, sputtering, gasping, or choking while asleep. Sometimes these will cause someone with OSA to wake up multiple times a night, resulting in poor quality sleep and daytime sleepiness. Morning headaches can also be a painful and problematic symptom.

How can sleep apnea impact other parts of my overall health?

We now know that sleep apnea can result in low oxygen levels and impact other health conditions. These include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and diabetes.

  • Hypertension – untreated OSA is associated with worsening blood pressure control. Nighttime is usually a period when the body is at rest and blood pressure is lower. Poor breathing can disrupt rest and the natural nighttime decrease in blood pressure, worsening hypertension.
  • Atherosclerosis – this refers to the build up of fatty plaques on the walls of blood vessels and arteries. When left untreated, a lifetime of snoring vibrations may thicken and stiffen arteries, especially the carotid arteries on each side of the neck.
  • Diabetes – poor regulation of blood sugars is associated with OSA, independent of other factors like weight. Insufficient oxygen leads to inflammation, increasing the risk for metabolic syndrome.

All of this together means that if left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. As you can see, a number of the problems above go hand-in-hand, so your provider may employ a wholistic strategy to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke from all angles.

Finally, what are CPAP machines?

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure.  It consists of a machine with a mask that is used to keep the airway open and prevent pauses in breathing. A CPAP machine is the cornerstone of treatment for adults with OSA. In large studies, those with sleep apnea find that nightly CPAP reduces the number of apneic events or breathing pauses, improves elevated blood pressure, and increases quality of life. Unfortunately, there is not conclusive evidence that using a CPAP machine reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke; this is why a comprehensive strategy rather than a single intervention is needed to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Do you know someone who snores? Do you have sleep apnea? If so, what are you doing to improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of related health problems?