If I snore, then …
When you finish this sentence, what comes to mind?
Maybe, my partner wakes up. Or I wake up. Or the underlying concern: I might have sleep apnea.
There are multiple causes for snoring, and sleep apnea is one of them. That said, snoring isn’t “bad” on its own; instead, it’s one of many possible indicators of sleep apnea. To decide whether or not your snoring is related to sleep apnea, it’s crucial to interrogate why, how often, and what happens when you snore.
Common Causes of Snoring
Most everyone snores sometimes. And the reasons why we snore depend on sleep position, health, habits, daytime activities, weight, age, and other factors.
For example, snoring is loudest and most frequent for back sleepers because gravity causes the throat airway to narrow. Nasal congestion, which limits airflow through the nose and forces the breath through the mouth, could be a result of illness, allergies, pollutants, weather changes, or hormonal fluctuations. Sleep deprivation, drinking too much before bed, or taking muscle relaxants or depressants relaxes throat muscles and increases the likelihood of snoring.
Additionally, older people experience decreased muscle tone and increased risk for weight gain around the throat, making them more likely to snore as they age. And while men are more likely to snore than women, snoring is more common for women during pregnancy or menopause.
Occasional snoring, caused by any number of factors listed above, is common. In fact, about 45% of people snore sometimes. Less common is the incidence of chronic snoring.
Chronic snoring, characterized by three or more nights of snoring per week, is the result of anatomy or a medical condition that consistently blocks the airway during sleep. Chronic snoring could indicate a deviated septum, irregular bone or palate shape, polyps in the nasal passage, an elongated or swollen uvula or soft palate, or an enlarged tongue or tonsils.
It could also indicate hypothyroidism, being overweight or obese, having a large neck, chronic nasal congestion, the later stages of pregnancy, or the onset of menopause. And any of these conditions can put you at greater risk for sleep apnea.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea – How Are They Linked?
Snoring occurs when something obstructs the normal flow of air through the mouth or nose during sleep. As air moves past relaxed tissues at the back of the throat, the soft tissues vibrate, resulting in the cacophonous sleep sonata we know as ‘snoring.’
As mentioned earlier, the ‘something’ that obstructs your airway could be caused by some degree of blockage — a congested nasal passage, drinking alcohol before bed — based on your habits, health, or activity. This type of snoring, called ‘primary snoring,’ is not caused by sleep apnea. With primary snoring, you breathe the same amount of air as you would without snoring; the air just moves through a narrower space, causing the irritating sound that might wake up your bed partner.
Snoring caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), on the other hand, presents more distinct characteristics and more severe consequences than primary snoring. OSA-associated snoring is an indicator that your airway has narrowed or closed — and that, as a result, your breathing slows or stops.
While exact symptoms vary by person, OSA-associated snoring is typically accompanied by a cycle of sounds: loud snoring, then silence, and then a snort, gasp, or choke. The loud snoring is the result of the throat’s vibrating soft tissues as the breath moves through the obstructed airway; and the following silence indicates that the breath has nearly or completely stopped for at least 10 seconds. Finally, the snort, gasp, or choke is a sign that your body has woken up to kickstart your breathing again. This pattern repeats throughout the night — at least five times per hour of sleep!
The more severe a person’s OSA, the more intense their sleep sounds. Snoring becomes louder if the airway is more restricted, while choking and gasping is a strong indicator of OSA.
If You Snore, Do You Have Sleep Apnea?
To explore whether your snoring is related to OSA, consider all the symptoms you experience while you sleep (or try to sleep), and while you are moving through your day-to-day. How you feel throughout the day and night could reveal the tell-tale signs of sleep apnea.
Nighttime / Sleep Symptoms:
- chronic, very loud snoring
- shallow breaths
- pauses in your breathing (usually for more than 10 seconds)
- choking or gasping
- restless sleep
- waking up confused
- chest pain
- sore throat
- weight gain / difficulty losing weight
- reduced memory or ability to concentrate
- frequent frustration, anger, or irritability
- excessive sleepiness or fatigue
- falling asleep during other activities
Is Snoring Bad for Your Health?
The sound of snoring might hurt your eardrums and kill your kindness for a snoring partner, but it won’t harm your health on its own. This distinction is important. While snoring is not the culprit for severe health complications, the cause of snoring could be.
Chronic snoring, usually accompanied by choking or gasping, could be symptoms of sleep apnea; and untreated sleep apnea can put you at greater risk for serious health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
How Do You Stop Snoring?
To stop disrupting you or your partner’s sleep, consider your reasons for snoring. Do you drink or take sedatives before bed? Do you have nasal congestion from allergies or illness? Do you sleep on your back?
Once you take note of your daily patterns and bedtime rituals, decide which behaviors to adjust before you fall asleep. For instance, change your sleep position so that you aren’t lying on your back, or sleep with your head elevated. Reduce or avoid drinking or taking sedatives before bed. Or treat your underlying nasal symptoms with nasal strips, sprays, or humidifiers.
If you think your snoring is tied to OSA, simple sleep adjustments won’t cure your snoring or sleep apnea. Long-term lifestyle changes, such as modifying diet and increasing exercise, can reduce the severity of your OSA symptoms — especially if you’re overweight or obese.
However, the most effective long-term treatment for OSA is CPAP therapy. CPAP machines supply you with a continuous flow of air while you sleep, which keeps your breathing regular and steady — and keeps your snoring at bay.
Does Sleep Apnea Cause Snoring?
Sleep apnea can cause snoring, and most people with OSA do snore. However, it’s important to remember that not all people who snore have sleep apnea.
So, if you snore on a regular basis, consider other questions around your daily routine:
- Do I snore most nights?
- Is my snoring so loud that I wake up myself or my partner?
- After I snore, does my breathing pause for at least 10 seconds?
- Do I gasp, choke, or take shallow breaths while I sleep?
- When I wake up in the morning, do I have headaches or a sore throat?
- During the day, am I sleepy, irritable, and/or unable to concentrate?
If you can’t answer the questions above, ask anyone who shares your bed or home. They might know your sleep sounds better than you! And if you sleep alone, record your sleep sounds, or pay special attention to the symptoms you notice while you’re awake. Chronic snoring and other symptoms, such as excessive daytime fatigue, are key indicators that you may have OSA.
So, is snoring bad? When it’s linked to sleep apnea, it can be! If you think your sleep symptoms are a sign of OSA, take the first step toward treatment with a Lofta home sleep test. This at-home test will connect you with a board-certified doctor who will review your sleep data and give you a diagnosis — all from the comfort of your home.
Snoring has disrupted your sleep long enough. Find out today if it’s linked to OSA.