While the frequent nighttime interruptions to breathing that occur as a result of sleep apnea can have serious long-term consequences, it isn’t always easy for individuals suffering from the condition to know when they need to seek medical care. In fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 80 percent of those with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.
In the short term, symptoms like fatigue and irritability can all too easily be brushed off as the result indigestion or a bad dream causing a poor night’s sleep. But in the long run, sleep apnea can increase the risk of depression, type 2 diabetes, and a wide range of significant cardiovascular problems. This is in addition to the higher risk of traffic and workplace accidents resulting from trying to get through the day while suffering from extreme drowsiness.
Thankfully, there are several indicators that can be used to help identify sleep apnea, such as waking up gasping for breath in the middle of the night, or experiencing headaches or a dry throat in the morning.
However, one of the most commonly cited signs that someone has sleep apnea is snoring. Loud snoring during the night is usually noticed by a bed partner, and is frequently viewed as an early warning sign that an individual is suffering from sleep apnea. But how exactly are snoring and sleep apnea connected? Let’s find out.
Snoring & Sleep Apnea
Once you understand how snoring and sleep apnea occur, it is fairly easy to see the connection. Obstructive sleep apnea is defined as an interruption to breathing that occurs when the upper airways are blocked. An example of this is when the soft palate collapses against the throat and closes off the airway.
Snoring results from similar circumstances. As throat tissues relax and begin to partially block the upper breathing passages, they will vibrate during inhalation and exhalation. This vibration results in the sound we hear as snoring. Whether the snoring is loud or soft will depend on a wide range of variables, including body weight and sleep position. Generally speaking, the tighter the airways have been closed off, the louder the snoring will be.
One thing that can be confusing for snorers and their partners is that while snoring is frequently related to obstructive sleep apnea, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the snorer has sleep apnea. Snoring is more likely to be related to sleep apnea if it occurs frequently and is extremely loud. Someone who has a gasping or choking quality to their snores is most likely affected by obstructive sleep apnea.
Other signs that snorers and their bed partners should watch out for are waking up gasping for breath during the middle of the night, excessively restless sleep, and periods where the snorer stops breathing altogether. The more persistent and severe these issues appear, the greater the severity of the obstructive sleep apnea. The sooner the snorer gets a qualified medical diagnosis, the better.
When is Snoring Not Connected to Sleep Apnea?
Snoring is not always directly associated with sleep apnea. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that while 90 million American adults snore, only about half do so as the result of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring tends to become more common as people age, because the aging process causes the throat muscles to naturally be more relaxed. Because men have narrower air passages than women, they tend to be more likely to snore.
Physical abnormalities such as a deviated nasal septum, enlarged adenoids, or a cleft palate can also contribute to a narrowing of the throat that makes snoring more likely to occur. Those who are overweight or obese are also more likely to snore because of the buildup of fatty tissue around the neck.
Many factors that contribute to snoring are often more situational. When someone experiences sinus or nasal congestion, the mucus that blocks the airways makes it harder to breathe, and will typically result in snoring. As a result, some people will snore when their allergies flare up, but not during other times of the year. Individuals who drink alcohol or take sedatives before going to bed will relax their muscles in a way that increases the likelihood of snoring. Even something as simple as sleeping on your back could make you more likely to snore.
Those whose snoring is not related to obstructive sleep apnea tend to snore on a less regular basis — in other words, you probably won’t snore every night. Their snoring also tends to be softer, and doesn’t have the rattling or choking sounds associated with sleep apnea.
However, one complication with these non-sleep apnea snoring causes is that many of these factors are also often related to sleep apnea. Obesity can cause the relaxation of the throat muscles to be so severe that it leads to obstructive sleep apnea, in addition to snoring. Sleeping on one’s back is commonly associated with a condition known as positional sleep apnea, in which the individual could dramatically reduce the severity of their condition by simply sleeping on their side.
Because many of the causes of snoring are also closely related to sleep apnea, it is best to consult with your doctor if your bed partner complains of frequent, loud snoring.
Why You Should Address Snoring
Both sleep apnea and snoring can cause significant problems for you and your bed partner. The frequent interruptions to sleep caused by sleep apnea can heighten the body’s feelings of stress, which results in higher blood pressure. Fatigue can make it difficult to stay focused during the day, and can cause you to become irritable — even over relatively minor things. A lack of sleep can even contribute to anxiety and depression.
Over time, high blood pressure and heightened feelings of stress resulting from untreated sleep apnea could eventually lead to heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, or worsening ADHD. Ultimately, this means that untreated sleep apnea could shorten your life.
Even if your snoring isn’t tied to sleep apnea, it is still worth fixing. In a survey from the National Sleep Foundation, 38 percent of those surveyed “said they have had problems in their relationship due to their partner's sleep disorder” — with complaints including both sleep apnea and snoring.
How exactly does snoring cause such harm to relationships? As Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. notes in an article for Psychology Today, trouble with sleep quality and quantity can cause serious problems for both partners. “Poor quality and insufficient sleep interfere with our thinking skills and judgment. Lack of sleep can make us irritable and short-tempered. Poor sleep diminishes our ability to manage conflict well, increasing negative feelings and reducing our ability to empathize. Lack of sleep has been shown in scientific research to make couples feel less appreciative of each other, and to experience greater feelings of selfishness…snoring itself can become a focal point of both frustration and shame within the dynamic of a couple’s relationship.”
Many couples end up sleeping in separate rooms because of one partner’s snoring, which can further harm intimacy in the relationship. In addition, many of the negative side effects of sleep apnea can also affect bed partners. Consistently poor sleep quality caused by a partner’s snoring will increase stress and fatigue, which can ultimately contribute to the previously mentioned chronic health conditions.
If you experience frequent, loud snoring that is disturbing your partner’s sleep, your first order of business is to consult with your doctor to determine if it is being caused by sleep apnea or another condition. The sooner you put a stop to your snoring, the better things will be for both you and your partner.
The Benefits of CPAP
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and other lifestyle factors to try to determine why you are snoring and recommend a treatment plan. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend that you visit a sleep specialist. The sleep specialist will typically have you undergo a sleep study, in which your breathing patterns will be monitored during an overnight stay. This is done to determine the severity of your sleep apnea so you can receive a prescription for CPAP treatment.
A CPAP machine provides a continuous flow of air pressure to keep the breathing passages open throughout the night. This prevents the interruptions to breathing that occur when the throat muscles relax, and directly counteracts the negative side effects of sleep apnea. You’ll reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. You’ll be less likely to experience severe depression that results from fatigue and increased stress. And of course, it will help you stop snoring.
While adapting to wearing a CPAP mask can take some time, the end result is that you and your partner will be able to enjoy better sleep quality and feel well rested each day. If your sleep apnea is largely related to your sleep position, another alternative is to use a device like the Philips NightBalance, which helps users sleep on their side, rather than their back.
Regardless of whether or not you suffer from sleep apnea, there are plenty of other steps you can take to reduce snoring and improve your sleep quality and overall health. Because obesity is closely connected with both conditions, lifestyle modifications that help you lose weight and become more physically fit can make a big difference in sleep quality.
Both snorers and sleep apnea sufferers should make a conscious effort to avoid alcohol and medications that could relax the throat muscles before bed (including sleeping pills). If you experience bouts of snoring related to allergy flareups, ask your doctor about which allergy medications would be the best for your situation.
Some anatomical abnormalities (like a deviated nasal septum) can be corrected by surgery. This will help reduce snoring, while also potentially addressing other issues like recurrent sinus infections or nasal congestion. Because many of these issues also contribute to sleep apnea, making lifestyle changes or taking other steps to fix them could lower your risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, helping you avoid the need for CPAP treatment in the future.
Regardless of the methods your doctor recommends to treat your snoring and/or sleep apnea, following through will make a big difference for your well-being and that of your partner. For some couples, putting a stop to snoring might just be what saves their relationship.
Putting a Stop to Snoring & Sleep Apnea
Severe snoring that results from sleep apnea will keep your bed partner from getting a good night’s sleep, while also causing fatigue and other health complications for you. Because of this, if your partner complains that you snore loudly every night, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a sleep specialist.
With the use of a prescribed CPAP device, you will be able to stop snoring and enjoy uninterrupted, high-quality sleep. You and your partner will feel fully rested in the mornings, and you will be able to avoid the significant harmful health consequences that result from poor sleep quality.
Though CPAP therapy can make a big difference for your overall sleep quality, there is no denying that affording the equipment you need can be a bit tricky — particularly if you don’t have health insurance, or if your insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage.
This is where Help Medical Supplies can make a big difference. We don’t just offer a wide range of CPAP and BiPAP machines from top brands like ResMed and Philips Respironics. We offer many of these devices at significant discounts, allowing you to save hundreds of dollars so you can better afford your purchase.
Whether you need a CPAP bundle or one of our certified refurbished products, you can enjoy reliable delivery with free shipping on orders of $89 or more, as well as available financing through CareCredit on qualifying purchases over $500.
We’re here to help you beat sleep apnea — and the snoring it causes. Place your order for a CPAP device today and find out for yourself just how much of a difference it can make for your sleep.