Research shows that as many as 50% of American adults are snorers, and snoring affects men more than women. But really, anyone can snore. Even babies may be snorers. While a lot of people consider snoring to be just a “natural” part of life, it may also be something much more serious.
If you share a bed, or even an apartment, with someone who snores loudly at night, then you know what it’s like to have difficulty sleeping! The loud noises can be infuriating and frustrating and cause lost sleep for a whole household. Getting elbowed by your partner to stop snoring in the night isn’t the only problem with snoring. Snoring may actually be a sign of other, more serious underlying health problems.
Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing that is often caused by a blockage to the airflow, called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). People who have sleep apnea often exhibit many signs and symptoms such as loud snoring, high blood pressure, falling asleep during activity such as driving, morning headaches, being overweight, dry mouth or sore throat, daytime sleepiness, and limited work performance or cognitive activity. People who have sleep apnea often suffer from insomnia, don’t feel refreshed in the morning after a long night of sleep,
A serious condition because of the lack of oxygen to the brain and body during sleep, people with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and even premature death. People who suspect that they may have sleep apnea should see a medical professional right away. Your doctor may schedule you for a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea and, if so, how it should be treated. Most of the time, people who treat their sleep apnea find that they also stop snoring along with it.
Snoring, on the other hand, is a symptom of sleep apnea that is caused when airflow through the breathing passages is limited and causes vibrations which turn into sounds. People with nasal congestion often breathe through their mouths during sleep, which puts them at higher risk of snoring. Mouth breathers snore when the throat, tongue, or mouth tissues get in the way of the air flow. Snoring may also be caused by a physical obstruction in the face such as a deviated septum or misaligned jaw. Treatments for snoring with vary depending on the specific cause, from simple lifestyle changes to (rarely) surgery.
Does Snoring Mean Sleep Apnea?
Although most people with sleep apnea do snore, just because you snore doesn’t mean that you have sleep apnea. Snoring can be a symptom of a variety of sleep related breathing disorders and does not necessarily mean that your body is stopping its ability to breathe altogether during the night.
If you have a problem with snoring but don’t have any of the other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, then you may not have it…yet. Some people who snore are on their way to sleep apnea and, if they continue with their lifestyle and habits the way they are will likely develop this serious condition. On the other hand, you may have the ability to control how far you let your snoring and sleep apnea go simply by making some minimal lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle Changes for Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Here are some healthy and natural lifestyle changes that snoring and sleep apnea problems may be reduced:
Stop Smoking. Everyone has been telling you to stop, and this is just one more reason to add to the list. Smoking causes inflammation and sensitivity in the lungs and breathing passages which can be a direct influence on snoring.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption. Because of its ability to relax the muscles in the body, alcohol can cause the muscles in the neck, throat, and tongue to relax so much that they interfere with sleep breathing and cause the loud vibrations of snoring.
Lose Weight. People who with snoring and/or sleep apnea can benefit from losing weight. Even just a few pounds can make the difference between extra flesh in the neck or mouth that puts pressure on the airways and vibrates to cause snoring.
Sleep on Your Side. People who struggle with sleep related breathing such as snoring or sleep apnea may find that they can breathe better when they sleep on their sides. Back sleepers have a tendency to let their chins fall down and block breathing, and gravity has a tendency to take over as well. Changing sleep positions can change everything about whether or not you snore.
Adjust your Pillow or Mattress. Changing your bedding could change everything. If you have allergies that block your nose and cause snoring, changing to hypoallergenic pillows could do the trick. Some snorers benefit from a wedge pillow under their mattress to keep the head propped up and stop gravity from interfering. Still others find that certain anti-snoring pillows may be useful in providing the neck with the support it needs so that they can stop snoring.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe you a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This machine will assist with breathing during the night to make sure that your body and brain are getting the oxygen they need. Ignoring sleep apnea treatment not only will mean that you continue snoring, but it can also put your health and even your life at risk.
Snoring and sleep apnea are not things to be ignored—or to be afraid of. But they are serious enough to warrant talking to a doctor and having a test done to make sure that your snoring is not an indication of something much more serious. The good news is that both conditions are treatable with fairly non-invasive methods so that you can stop snoring, get back to sleeping in a healthy way, and get on with your life!