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It’s more than just difficult to sleep next to. It could be dangerous.

We’re talking about snoring. 

Snoring can be a warning sign and cause life-threatening effects on the heart… and many don’t even know they’re doing it.

When we’re asleep, the muscles and tissues in our nose, sinuses, mouth, and upper throat tend to relax. This reduces the air that can pass through to and from the lungs. The air that flows through the limited space causes the relaxed tissues to vibrate, which produces noise. The narrower the airway, the more tissue vibration occurs, resulting in louder noise.

Snoring can range from light to heavy, with some being too mild to wake the snorer or their sleeping partner. If the snorer gets a healthy seven to nine hours of sleep each night without tossing and turning, it’s unlikely to threaten health… but still worth investigating.

Excessive and harsh snoring is often associated with the sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). 

Warning signs that may indicate OSA:

  • Snoring is so loud it disrupts your sleep
  • Seeing your partner have pauses in breathing
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Morning headaches

OSA is characterized by loud snoring followed by pauses in breathing. These pauses can cause the snorer to wake up with a loud snort. People with OSA may experience these episodes up to five times per hour.

The anatomy of the mouth, alcohol consumption, nasal problems, sleep deprivation, and sleep position can all contribute to snoring. Being male, overweight or obese, and having a family history of sleep apnea are all risk factors for snoring.

OSA can put the snorer at risk for serious health conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and stroke. Daytime sleepiness caused by OSA can lead to an increase in the risk of motor vehicle accidents. In children, OSA may cause behavior problems, especially aggressiveness or learning difficulties.

To evaluate snoring, a thorough history and physical exam are conducted by the physician. The doctor may also want to speak to the partner of the snorer or the parent of a snoring child. In addition, imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may be done to check the structure of the airway. Often, a sleep study is performed to assess brain waves, blood-oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, sleep stages, as well as eye and leg movements. Many sleep studies can be done at home for convenience.

The treatment for sleep apnea usually involves changes in lifestyle, such as weight loss, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, treating nasal congestion, avoiding sleep deprivation, and avoiding sleeping on the back. If those don’t solve the problem, more invasive steps might be recommended including:

  • Nasal decongestants like steroid sprays 
  • Oral appliances that advance the position of the jaw, tongue, and soft palate 
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses a mask over the nose and mouth for delivery of air during sleep and 
  • Upper airway surgery, where excess tissue can be removed, or the jaw can be moved forward

It’s important to remember that sleep apnea and snoring aren’t just annoying, they could be life threatening. If someone you love snores, don’t just “sleep” on it! Encourage them to talk to a doctor and get checked for sleep apnea!