So What if I Snore? The Link between Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is very common; in fact, 1 in 3 Americans do it! Sometimes snoring is perfectly normal and innocuous—but at others, it can point to a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder. Snoring is one of the most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea, a serious condition that can cause everything from heart trouble to memory loss. In this blog post we explain the causes of snoring, how it relates to this troubling sleep condition, and how to tell if you should be concerned. 

Two sides of the same event

During sleep, the throat muscles tend to relax, which can cause the soft tissue at the back of the throat to partially block the airway. When a person breathes in, the tissue vibrates, causing the sound we all know as snoring. The narrower the airway becomes, the louder the sound.

When the throat is blocked completely, an apnea occurs. The patient stops breathing and oxygen is cut off to the brain. This causes the patient to partially wake up (though usually not to resume consciousness) until he begins breathing again. These incidents can repeat as many as thirty times per hour. Not only does this prevent a restful, deep sleep, but over time it causes consistent mental and physical wear to the body.

People with sleep apnea tend to snore frequently and loudly. Loud periods of snoring may be followed by silent pauses. If the snoring is accompanied by gasping, choking, or snorting, this is a serious warning sign. This video provides an example of what sleep apnea may look like.

Most (though not all) sleep apnea patients snore. Not all snorers have sleep apnea. So how can you tell if you’re at risk?

About 15% of people who snore have sleep apnea, so how do you know if you or your bed partner is among them? Well, snoring is just one of the possible symptoms. Other telltale signs include:

  • Waking up with a headache or a sore/dry throat
  • Chronic fatigue and irritability during the day
  • Memory loss
  • Decrease in attention and concentration
  • More serious medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression

People who are overweight or obese also have a much higher risk of sleep apnea. Chronic snoring, paired with some or all of these factors, could point back to a sleep disorder.

The Big Question: Is my snoring sleep apnea?

Ultimately, the only way to find out is to have an overnight sleep study. An in-center polysomnogram or a Home Sleep Test (HST) will monitor your breathing, heart rate, and other important measurements to see if you are experiencing apneas during the night.

If you suspect that you or your partner might have sleep apnea, it is very important to talk to your doctor about the possibility a sleep test. Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that impairs both your mental and physical health.

If you or your bed partner snores frequently, make sure to mention it and any other symptoms to your doctor. Remember that just because snoring is prevalent doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly!

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American Sleep Apnea Association
Mayo Clinic, National Sleep Foundation
National Institutes of Health

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Photo Credit: Resmed

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