The Real Health Risks of Snoring and Sleep Apnea
The Health Risks of Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Approximately 90 million Americans snore while they sleep. Of that 90 million, about 18 million suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type of sleep apnea. If you’re part of either of these groups, you might be wondering whether or not snoring at night is a very big deal. After all, if you’re asleep, does it really matter what you’re doing? In short, yes. There are a lot of long-term health risks associated with snoring and sleep apnea. Read on to learn more about these two issues and the health problems that can arise when they go unchecked.
Snoring Vs. Sleep Apnea
First things first, it’s important to understand the difference between snoring and sleep apnea. Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they’re two separate issues. Snoring occurs as the result of vibrating tissues and turbulence in the back of your throat. This happens because the muscles in the back of the throat relax while you sleep. When they relax, the airway becomes smaller, which disturbs the airflow and results in the uvula and soft palate vibrating against your throat. Snoring can be caused by a number of problems. You may have nasal issues, you may have consumed too much alcohol, or the anatomy of your mouth may cause you to snore more frequently. Snoring is also a symptom of sleep apnea. Basically, people with sleep apnea almost always snore, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
In addition to snoring, there are many other symptoms that can pop up when someone is struggling with sleep apnea. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Waking up abruptly in the middle of the night
- Feeling as though you’re choking or gasping when you wake up
- Daytime sleepiness even after getting a full night’s sleep
- Insomnia or restlessness at night
- Forgetfulness or difficulty focusing
- Waking up with a dry mouth or scratchy throat
- Headaches in the morning
- Nocturia (waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom)
- Low libido
It’s hard to know whether or not you snore — especially if you don’t sleep with a spouse or partner. If you’re struggling with any of these symptoms, though, you may want to consider visiting your doctor to see whether or not you have sleep apnea.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
To determine whether or not you have sleep apnea, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and take a look at your medical history. They will then refer you to a sleep specialist. When you’re evaluated by a sleep specialist, they’ll analyze your physical health and may have you participate in a sleep study. During a sleep study, a specialist analyzes the way you sleep and how your body responds to certain issues related to your sleep. Some specific issues they look at include:
- Vital signs
- Amount of oxygen in your blood
- Air moving through your system
- Brain activity
- Chest movements
Sleep studies can take place at a sleep center or in your home. In addition to diagnosing sleep apnea, a sleep study will also determine the severity of your condition. A sleep specialist may also shed light on the cause of your condition and let you know if it stems from an issue like enlarged tonsils.
Causes of Snoring and Sleep Apnea
There are a number of issues that can cause both snoring and sleep apnea. Some of the most common causes of snoring include:
- Nasal blockages caused by an illness (such as a cold or the flu) or allergies
- Nasal polyps or a deviated septum
- Tongue or throat blockages: This can come from poor muscle tone, aging, alcohol consumption, or bulky throat tissue caused by being overweight
- Uvula or soft palate blockages: A long uvula or soft palate can narrow the opening of the throat and cause vibrations, which lead to snoring sounds
As for sleep apnea, you’re more likely to suffer from it if any of the following conditions apply to you.
- People who are overweight or obese
- People with a large neck size (17 inches or more for men and 16 inches or more for women)
- People who are middle-aged or older
- Men (men are more likely to snore or be diagnosed with sleep apnea)
- People with a family history of sleep apnea
- People with high blood pressure
These conditions can also increase your chances of dealing with the health risks associated with snoring and sleep apnea.
Health Risks of Snoring and Sleep Apnea
If snoring and/or sleep apnea go untreated, you can experience a variety of negative health issues, including the following:
Research shows that intense snoring is related, in many cases, to narrowing of the arteries and the development of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries. If you snore and also struggle with these plaque deposits, your chances of experiencing a stroke increase. If you snore (or if your partner says you snore), it’s important to have your health examined to see if there are any other conditions you may need to address.
Because snoring has been linked to poor artery health, people who snore are also more likely to develop heart disease. Your chances of developing both nonfatal heart disease and experiencing fatal heart attacks increase. The good news is that research shows that treatment for sleep apnea can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
People with sleep apnea and/or long-term snoring issues are also more prone to developing irregular heart rhythms (also known as arrhythmia’s). Researchers believe that this increased risk has to do with the fact that sleep apnea can affect the conductive system of your heart. Sleep apnea also appears to enlarge the left atrium of the heart. In some cases, arrhythmia’s are innocuous. On the other hand, an arrhythmia can also increase your risk of experiencing a heart attack.
People who struggle with sleep apnea are also likely to deal with gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD). This may be caused by the way the throat closes while air is moving in and out. This causes pressure changes, which, in turn, can cause the contents of your stomach to come back up the esophagus and cause heartburn.
Snoring and sleep apnea seriously affect your sleep quality. If you’re not sleeping well at night, you’re likely to feel tired during the day. When you’re tired during the day, you’re more likely to injure yourself. Injuries could range from tripping and falling to getting in car accidents. In fact, research shows that the more tired people are during the day, the more likely they are to get into car accidents. Poor sleep doesn’t just put your safety at risk, but it also puts the people around you in danger.
Mental Health Issues
Poor sleep can also negatively affect your mental health. People who don’t sleep well are more likely to struggle with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. By getting your sleep apnea under control, you can improve your sleep quality and, consequently, give your mental health a boost.
Decreased Sexual Satisfaction
People who snore or have sleep apnea are more likely to struggle with low libidos. When your libido is low, your sexual satisfaction is likely to decrease. This can be a serious issue for people who are married or in long-term relationships.
If you’re pregnant and struggling with snoring or sleep apnea, you also face an increased risk of dealing with fetal complications. Researchers aren’t fully sure why this is yet. But, they believe it has to do, in part, with the fact that poor sleep negatively affects your health and the health of your fetus. If you’re pregnant and are snoring loudly or experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor and consider getting a sleep test.
How to Stop Snoring and Treat Sleep Apnea
As you can see, if you snore or struggle with sleep apnea, your chances of experiencing a wide range of health problems increase. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to minimize snoring and control your sleep apnea. There are a number of snoring aids you can use, including:
- Wedge pillows
- Tongue restraints
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you can also benefit from these other treatments:
- CPAP machines
- Dental appliances
- Nerve stimulation devices
Lifestyle changes like weight loss, reducing alcohol consumption, changing your sleep position, and/or quitting smoking can also help you manage your sleep apnea. Many people find that they can reverse their symptoms altogether just by making these changes. In more severe cases, though, you may need to consider surgery to open up your airways and treat sleep apnea.
Learn More Today
Now that you know more about snoring and sleep apnea and the problems they can cause, it’s time to take your health into your own hands and find a way to get your snoring under control. There are lots of products designed to help you stop snoring. Check out our product reviews to learn which products are worth buying. We also have lots of resources on our blog that can help you treat your sleep apnea and quit snoring for good.