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November 15, 2021

Snoring can be more than a nuisance for your bed partner – it may be a sign of sleep apnea

Excessive daytime sleepiness, mood changes and high blood pressure are other indications of the disorder

Adult Health Snoring
Snoring sleep apnea Tero Vesalainen/

Even in the absence of obstructive sleep apnea, snoring can still disrupt people's sleep enough to cause sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Snoring may appear to be a harmless nuisance that bed partners like to razz each other about, but for some people there are some hidden health dangers associated with it.

About 57% of adult men and 40% of women snore. Even 10 to 12% of children do so. The often disruptive noises occur when a person's airflow is blocked or restricted in some way in the upper airway behind the nose. The tissues in the airway hit each other, making the snoring sound, according to the Sleep Foundation.

Snoring isn't always a sign of a serious health problem. It could be the result of too much alcohol or sleep medication, nasal congestion or even from sleeping on one's back. Some women snore during pregnancy and after they reach menopause.

For some people, snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes people to gasp for air in their sleep because of a physical blockage in their upper airways. Anywhere from 2-9% of adults have obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring is a major symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. So is excessive sleepiness during the day. People with this disorder experience episodes of complete loss of airflow and episodes of reduced airflow throughout the night, which disturb the sleep of the snorers and their bed partners.

With mild obstructive sleep apnea, these episodes may occur anywhere from 5-15 times an hour. With moderate obstructive sleep apnea, they can occur anywhere between 16-30 per hour. People living with severe obstructive sleep apnea have these episodes more than 30 times per hour.

Signs of sleep apnea

Besides snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, signs of obstructive sleep apnea include waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, a morning headache, difficulty concentrating during the day, mood changes, high blood pressure and a decreased sex drive.

The STOP-BANG questionnaire is frequently used to diagnosis obstructive sleep apnea. The "S" stands for snoring, the "T" for tired, the "O" for observed instances of a sleeping person gasping for air or choking, and the "P" for high blood pressure. The "B" stands for body mass index, the "A" for age older than 50, the "N" for large neck size and the "G" for gender. Men are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include obesity, enlarged tonsils or adenoids and certain endocrine disorders, including hypothyroidism, in which high hormone activity interferes with breathing during sleep. Some genetic syndromes that affect the structure of the face and jaw also can lead to airway restriction.

Getting a better night's sleep

The most common obstructive sleep apnea is treated is with a continuous positive airway pressure, often referred to as CPAP. A CPAP machine delivers air pressure through a device that is placed over the nose and mouth while a person sleeps. It provides enough pressure to keep the upper airways open while sleeping.

Losing weight, exercising and stopping smoking also is advised for these patients.

When left uncontrolled, obstructive sleep apnea can cause life-threatening low levels of oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels. It also increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.

Snoring – even without sleep apnea – can be associated with old age and obesity. And it can still disrupt people's sleep enough to cause sleep deprivation, which comes with its own host of problems including an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. So it is still a good idea to try to prevent it from happening.

There are several ways to prevent it: sleeping on one's side, quitting smoking, losing weight if overweight and using nasal strips or an oral appliance fitted by a dentist. It also is a good idea to limit alcohol consumption right before bed.

People who are concerned that they may have obstructive sleep apnea, or those who simply want to get their snoring under control for their bed partner's sake, are advised to consult a doctor. Good sleep health is important for everyone.

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