Part of the “Make Sleep a Priority” Series (June 22, 2018) —
“I snore, so what?”
Maybe you’ve said it, or maybe your partner or someone you know. When a comedian jokes about snoring, it’s an easy laugh. So when the talk about snoring turns serious, it might be tempting to laugh it off. Don’t.
“Snoring is much more than an annoyance,” said Dr. Anuj Chandra, medical director of the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders, with offices in Chattanooga, Cleveland, and Ringgold/East Ridge. “Snoring could be a sign of a serious health threat.”
What Causes Snoring?
Normally, the muscles in your throat contract and relax, just like other muscles. When you sleep, your throat muscles relax so much that your throat becomes sort of loose and floppy, plus a little bit narrower. When you breathe, the softer walls of your throat sometimes vibrate, causing the familiar sound of snoring.
About 10 to 30 percent of American adults snore, usually without affecting their health. But for about 5 people out of 100, their throat narrows so much that breathing becomes difficult. For them, it’s not just that their throat vibrates and makes a little noise. It’s more like the walls of their throat collapse, blocking the airway partially or completely and causing the louder, snorting sound that some people make when they snore.
And that snort isn’t just a little bit worse. Loud snoring can be a symptom of a serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Why is Snoring a Problem?
In obstructive sleep apnea, it’s not just that breathing slows or gets more difficult. Breathing can actually stop hundreds of times each night.
“It sounds bizarre and impossible, but that’s actually what happens,” said Dr. Chandra. “Someone with obstructive sleep apnea can experience short pauses in breathing up to 100 times every hour. More than 30 is considered severe apnea.”
Those tiny pauses in breathing can have very large consequences.
When your airway is narrowed or blocked because of obstructive sleep apnea, several bad things can happen:
• Your sleep is disrupted, so that it is less restful. You may wake feeling anywhere from a little tired to totally exhausted, even though you got a full night’s sleep. You may be so sleepy during the day that work or social activities are affected. Drivers (including long-distance truckers) may have accidents behind the wheel. Students may have trouble with school work.
• You get less oxygen, and even a little bit less oxygen is a problem. Sleep-related oxygen deprivation can cause physical damage to your organs.
• Your brain also gets the message that you need more oxygen, so it makes your heart work harder, placing significant stress on your entire cardiovascular system and putting you at risk for high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, or stroke.
Other possible consequences of untreated obstructive sleep apnea include depression and diabetes.
What Should You Do About Snoring?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should consult your doctor if you have snoring along with any of these additional symptoms:
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Morning headaches
• Recent weight gain
• Awakening in the morning not feeling rested
• Awaking at night feeling confused
• Change in your level of attention, concentration, or memory
• Observed paused in breathing during sleep
“If you snore and have any other possible symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, you really should see your doctor,” added Dr. Chandra. “The serious problems that can result may take years to show up. Don’t wait to get checked.”
This article is part of “Make Sleep a Priority,” Dr. Anuj Chandra’s education program to encourage healthy sleep. For other articles, visit SleepForHealth.org. Or follow the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders on Facebook or Twitter (@AdvancedSleep).