Understanding the Difference Between an Annoying Habit and a Sleep Disorder
Snoring is a common problem that affects roughly 57% of men, 40% of women, and 27% of children in the U.S. The severity and health implications can vary with this widespread issue ranging from light snoring to snoring related to obstructive sleep apnea.
- Light, infrequent snoring is normal and does not typically require medical testing or treatment
- Primary snoring occurs more than three nights per week. Because of its frequency, it is more disruptive to bed partners
- Snoring related to obstructive sleep apnea is more concerning from a health perspective as breathing stops or slows at various points during sleep
While snoring may seem like a minor annoyance, it can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
What Causes Snoring?
During sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat relax and narrow the airway. As you inhale and exhale, the moving air rattles and vibrates the tissue resulting in the noise you hear when someone snores. Some people are more prone to snoring due to certain risk factors that may include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Use of sedative medications
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Large tonsils, tongue, or soft palate
- Deviated septum or nasal polyps
- A jaw that is small or set back
Sleep Apnea vs. Snoring
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a breathing disorder in which the airway gets blocked or collapses during sleep, causing repeated lapses in breath. OSA-related snoring tends to be loud and sound as if a person is choking, snorting, or gasping. This disorder disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body causing brief and partial awakenings, fragmented sleep, and daytime sleepiness. However, the majority of people who snore do not have OSA, and not everyone with OSA snores. In contrast, light or primary snoring does not involve reductions or pauses in breathing. It is crucial to recognize the signs of potential sleep apnea and talk with a doctor to learn more about the steps to take. Some of the most common OSA symptoms happen during sleep and may include:
- Very loud snoring
- Pauses in breathing
- Choking or gasping for air
Other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can affect you when awake.
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Morning headaches
- Not feeling well-rested after a full night of sleep
- Poor concentration
- High blood pressure
Health Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea
If untreated, OSA has the risk of causing long-term sleeping problems that can affect concentration, memory, and decision-making. Daytime sleepiness can raise the risk of accidents. Unchecked OSA is associated with dangerous daytime drowsiness and health conditions, including cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and depression.
Treating Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Treatment depends on the nature of the snoring and its severity. Types of treatments include lifestyle changes, anti-snoring, mouth exercises, positive airway pressure (PAP) devices, and surgery.
Lifestyle changes are beneficial to your overall quality of life and help stop snoring. Even when other treatments are prescribed, lifestyle changes are often still recommended. Changes may include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting the use of alcohol and sedatives
- Adjusting your sleep position
- Raising the head of your bed
- Reducing nasal congestion
Best Products to Address Snoring
The best anti-snoring mouthpiece, as recommended by the Sleep Foundation, the SnoreRx Plus is an adjustable anti-snoring device with a customized fit. The device props your jaw forward to open your airway and prevent snoring while allowing vertical jaw movement. Other anti-snoring devices help hold the tongue in place, preventing it from sliding back toward your throat. A good pillow like the recommended Saatva Latex Pillow may also provide some relief by elevating the chin and decreasing potential obstruction and turbulent airflow.
Building muscle tone to strengthen the mouth, tongue, and throat can help counteract the slackening of muscles and prevent snoring. Anti-snoring mouth exercises have shown to be most effective in people with mild snoring and usually must be completed daily for two or three months.
Positive Airway Pressure Devices
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are one of the most common treatments for sleep apnea in adults. Pumping pressurized air through a hose and a mask into the airway, a CPAP prevents it from being obstructed. A prescription is required to obtain a CPAP machine, and it must be calibrated to suit your breathing.
While surgery is not often the first option for treating any sleep disorder, it may be considered if other approaches are not effective.
Snoring is a common problem that can have serious consequences for your health and well-being. The only definite way to tell the difference between regular snoring and snoring caused by sleep apnea is to have diagnostic testing. This process can involve going to a clinic for a sleep study or, in some cases, taking a home sleep apnea test. If you or a loved one suffers from snoring, it is imperative to seek treatment to improve your sleep quality and reduce your risk of health problems. At the Comprehensive Sleep and Breathing Center, our team of experts can help diagnose the cause of your snoring and recommend effective treatments to help you get a better night’s sleep.