Sleep disorders and snoring affect some 90 million Americans or about one-fourth of the U.S. population. So, if your family and friends have been teasing about your sleep sounds, know that you’re not alone. They may actually even be snoring themselves!
That doesn’t mean you should let your snoring continue though. FYI, in marriages where one of the partners snores due to sleep apnea, the divorce rate is high.
More than that, sleep disorders and snoring are a precursor to many other health problems. From obesity to hypertension, sleep disorders and snoring put you at risk of many health complications.
Worst case scenario? It can stop your heart.
This is why the earlier you learn more about sleep disorders and snoring, the sooner you can minimize your risks.
This post will cover all the bases, including how you can prevent snoring, so be sure to keep reading!
Why You Snore in the First Place
To understand how to stop snoring, we first need to learn what’s causing it in the first place.
Snoring occurs when there’s a physical obstruction in the airflow from the mouth and nose. These blockages can include nose deformities and even too-relaxed throat and throat muscles.
Nasal Airway Obstruction
Sometimes, snoring can be a “seasonal” thing, which can happen to those with allergies. Sinus infection can also cause “seasonal” obstruction of the nasal airways.
But in people with nose deformities, like a deviated septum, snoring can be chronic. Nasal polyps — non-cancerous, fleshy swellings in the nose — can also cause snoring.
When Your Throat or Tongue is Too Relaxed
Around 70% of U.S. adults drink alcohol, and these people are likelier to snore. After all, alcohol is a muscle relaxant, and it can cause your throat and tongue muscles to relax a little too much. If this happens, the muscles can collapse and block the airway.
Deep sleep and certain sleeping pills can also lead to these overly-relaxed muscles.
Bulky Throat Tissue
Being overweight or obese can cause bulky throat tissue in adults. That extra size and weight can block the airway, leading to snoring.
Sleep Disorders and Snoring: When Sleep Apnea is to Blame
There are about 80 different types of sleep disorders affecting 50 million Americans. Of this, sleep apnea is among the most common, present in approximately 20% of Americans.
Even when it’s so common, there are still many myths surrounding sleep apnea, like how it’s the same as snoring. These two are different, although snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea.
What makes sleep apnea dangerous is that it also affects breathing. It has the potential to become deadly because it interrupts breathing during sleep. In people with sleep apnea, breathing stops and starts suddenly.
This stop-start breathing cycle can occur hundreds of times during sleep. When someone stops breathing, they don’t take in oxygen. And as you know, oxygen is synonymous to being alive.
Granted, sleep apnea only interrupts breathing. But during the times that it stops inhalation, it may mean the person isn’t getting enough oxygen. That lack of oxygen can then interfere with the body — particularly heart and brain — functions.
So, it’s no wonder that there are records of sleep apnea deaths or deaths associated with the disorder. In fact, studies like this one showed that sleep apnea increases mortality rates. People with the condition are three times more likely to die than those without it.
The same study recorded deaths in 19% — 12 deaths — of participants with severe sleep apnea. In 42% of those deaths (5 deaths), cardiovascular disease or stroke was to blame.
The Three Faces of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA) ans complex sleep apnea (which is a combination of the the first two). Obstructive sleep apnea is most common, affecting about 25 million Americans.
OSA is the result of a blockage in the airway, such as when soft throat tissue collapses while you’re asleep. That’s why snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are often coexisting conditions. It’s also the reason why being overweight or obese can give rise to obstructive sleep apnea.
CSA occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. Lung problems and opioids (like oxycodone) can cause this type of sleep apnea.
Do You Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Aside from loud snoring, OSA can also cause you to wake up abruptly and gasp or choke as you do so. You may also feel soreness in your throat or dryness in your mouth the morning after. Feeling super sleepy during the day can also mean you have OSA.
Because obstructive sleep apnea can reduce oxygen intake, you may experience morning headaches. This, combined with sleep disturbances, can lead to problems with concentration.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Sleep Deprivation
You may not notice it, but you may be waking up several times at night due to sleep apnea. For instance, your snoring can be so loud that it already rouses you or your partner nudges you when you snore. It can also be your brain alerting you to start breathing again.
Either way, sleep apnea can lead to sleep deprivation.
From here, constant lack of sleep can affect your mental health and that of your partner. Irritability, poor concentration, and even depression can follow.
It can even lead to poor driving abilities, increasing your risk of causing a car crash. In fact, 7% of road accidents in the U.S. are due to drowsy driving.
Chronic lack of sleep also means that your body can’t repair damaged blood vessels. This can lead to higher risks of stroke, heart disease, and hypertension among many others.
Rising Blood Pressure Levels
Whenever you stop breathing while sleeping, this cuts your oxygen intake. If the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, this triggers certain brain receptors. These brain “messengers” tell the blood vessels to bring more oxygen to the brain and heart.
This increased need for oxygen then causes a spike in the blood flow to the brain and heart. This greater blood flow strains the walls of the blood vessel, leading to high blood pressure.
This is why people with OSA have higher risks of developing hypertension.
Keep in mind that 75 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. It’s a condition that can make anyone more susceptible to heart disease and stroke. Both are some of the leading causes of deaths in the country.
Lack of Oxygen While Sleeping Can Lead to Heart Disease
Heart disease due to sleep apnea starts the same way as high blood pressure: Due to lack of oxygen. When not enough oxygen reaches your heart, it has to work harder so it can continue pumping.
This added pressure strains the heart, weakening its muscles and vessels.
Also, when you have high blood pressure, this can cause blockages in the coronary arteries. This buildup often consists of cholesterol, fat, and other substances called plaque. All those deposits narrow the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The narrower the arteries are, the harder it is for blood to flow throughout the body. The heart tries to compensate for this by pumping harder.
Over time, this increased workload will result in an enlarged heart. The heart becomes thicker so it can still pump blood to all parts of the body. And while it can still pump, its pumping efficiency decreases.
This process, known as congestive heart failure, is a slow and long one. And having obstructive sleep apnea raises your risks for this condition by up to 140%! That’s why as early as now, you should address your OSA not only to stop snoring but to keep your heart pumping.
Increased Risks of Heart Attack
Plaque in the coronary arteries can harden over time. When this happens, you’re at a greater risk of developing blood clots.
These clots can further block your already-clogged arteries. This will then result in the heart muscle no longer receiving blood. That means the heart won’t receive nutrient-rich oxygen.
From there, the heart muscle, or part of it, can become damaged or even die. This is what you call a heart attack.
Death by Sleep Apnea-Induced Stroke
Every year, over 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. Of that number, almost 18% — or 140,000 people — die. It’s for this reason that strokes rank as the fifth most common cause of death in the country.
When oxygen and nutrients don’t reach the brain, a stroke occurs. This can be due to a clot blocking an artery that leads to the brain. Furthermore, studies found that low oxygen levels also affect the flow of blood to the brain.
For these reasons, OSA may contribute to the occurrence of a stroke. In fact, those with sleep apnea have almost four times greater likelihood to suffer a stroke.
When Obesity Results from Sleep Apnea
True, being overweight or obese heightens your risk for obstructive sleep apnea. But it can also be the other way around.
This increased risk for being overweight or being obese can be due to how OSA causes lack of sleep. Scientists found that sleep deprivation affects certain appetite-related hormones.
One of these hormones is leptin, which fat cells in the body produce. When there isn’t enough of it, the body takes that as a sign of starvation. This then leads to an increase in one’s appetite.
Another hormone affected is ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. The researchers found that sleep-deprived people have higher levels of it. Having more ghrelin in your body makes you want to eat more.
That should be a good enough reason to sleep better and longer! More than that, you shouldn’t ignore sleep apnea any longer, as it can mean unwanted weight gain. The longer you delay treating OSA, the higher your risks for obesity.
Getting Diagnosed for Sleep Apnea
Has your partner or spouse told you several times that you snore loudly, gasp, or choke while asleep? If so, and you also experience the previously-mentioned symptoms, visit your doctor. It’s possible that you have sleep apnea and you want to get it treated ASAP.
Your doctor may recommend a sleep study, which is usually an overnight process. Doctors will monitor your sleep state, breathing, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate. They’ll also look for signs of abnormal muscle activity and eye movement.
Your Treatment Options
If your doctor diagnoses you with sleep apnea, you should start treatment right away. There are several treatment methods for OSA, including the following:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Device
CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure device, is a common treatment for OSA. This involves the use of a machine that blows air into your airway. You use a mask over your nose or mouth to drive the air into your lungs.
Although CPAP is effective in keeping the airway open, it can be pretty expensive. The sounds it produces (while blowing air) can also be distracting. Furthermore, it’s a high-maintenance device, requiring constant sanitation and cleaning.
Tissue Removal through Surgery
Upper airway surgery is another option for sleep apnea treatment. This involves removing the tissue that collapses or blocks the airway. It’s effective, but also the most invasive (and expensive) of all OSA treatment options.
Anti-Snoring Chin Straps
Anti snoring chin straps are the least expensive and invasive way to help with sleep apnea. Most people who use this are open-mouth snorers who often snore the heaviest and the loudest.
The aim of this device is to keep your mouth closed using a chin cupping mechanism. You secure the cup with a strap that goes behind your head. The strap ensures that air goes straight into the airway, reducing tissue vibration.
The best snoring aids also work for people who don’t have sleep apnea but still snore.
Keep Snoring Down to Enjoy More Peaceful, Relaxing Sleep
Sleep disorders and snoring affect your health way too much for you to ignore them. So as soon as your partner tells you about your (loud) sleep sounds, visit your doctor right away. The sooner you start sleep apnea treatment, the sooner you can say goodbye to snoring.
Ready to say goodbye to all those loud and sleepless nights? If so, then consider getting a sleep apnea mouthpiece. Check out this guide we have on such devices to determine if they can benefit you!
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