Although loud snoring is the stuff of comedy routines, congested or interrupted breathing while you sleep is no laughing matter. Aside from waking other sleepers, it may represent a serious risk to your health. If you are one of the 13 million Americans who have this problem and haven’t realized it is a significant threat to well-being, it’s time to take preventive measures.
Snoring is related to what’s called sleep apnea, the temporary obstruction of breathing while you sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, snoring plagues about two of every three couples.
If you snore, it can mean you have a greater chance of high blood pressure and heart disease. Added to that, if your sleeping partner is routinely awakened at night by snoring, it can cause distressing relationship problems. Until you lose sleep because your partner snores, you cannot imagine how disturbing this is. Snoring may seem humorous, but if you find yourself moving to a different room just to finish a night’s sleep you know it is no laughing matter. It can severely test any relationship.
Snoring has the same underlying causes as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The airway obstruction in the throat is caused by the soft palate collapsing together with the base of the tongue. It can also be connected to a failure of the brain to signal the need for a breath during sleep (a.k.a. central sleep apnea). In most cases, snorers are subject to sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Conventional medicine considers you to have a serious problem with apnea when you experience more than 10 apneic episodes an hour leading to low blood oxygen. These apneic events, aside from being linked to cardiovascular difficulties, also cause sleepiness during the day. Other serious health risks can also be involved.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea has become a huge problem in American adults, occurring in 9 percent of all men and 4 percent of women, affecting a total of around 13 million adults. Apnea is easily detected with an overnight sleep study that measures your blood oxygen, exhaled carbon dioxide and respiratory rate.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of sleep apnea sufferers remain undiagnosed1. That is why these conditions mandate checking for apnea:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Trouble concentrating or memory loss
- Loud snoring
- Restless sleep at night
Soft Tissue Collapse
Several different conditions can cause the soft tissue in the throat to collapse together and block airflow. If you are overweight, you have a higher likelihood of having a problem with snoring and sleep apnea, but many of my patients with OSA are not obese or even overweight. In these cases, the throat occlusion can often be from weak and flabby muscles of the pharynx, naturally narrowed bones of the mouth or mucus congestion (from allergies) in the throat. If you suffer sleep apnea, drinking alcoholic beverages at night and smoking worsens the condition.
No Apathy About Apnea
You’d recognize apnea’s seriousness if you witnessed apneic episodes. It makes you want to shake the victims out of fear they are going to suffocate to death. But, even if left alone, people suffering apnea seem to recover and wake up, although they’re not really awake. The condition cuts short the stage of sleep that restores personal energy, the stage called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Hence the daytime sleepiness that follows.
Sleep apnea does not kill from suffocation during sleep. Instead, it stresses relationships and carries long-term health risks when it continues untreated. The health risks of moderate to severe sleep apnea include:
- Three times the risk of dying this year.2
- Four times the risk of stroke.
- Tripled risk of heart disease.3
- Doubled risk of high blood pressure.4
- Increase in your chance of a car accident by six times according to a New England Journal of Medicine report (about 100,000 crashes annually in the U.S. are directly caused by drowsy drivers).5
- Lowered sex drive and increased irritability.
- High levels of anxiety or depression.
I’ll discuss conventional and natural treatments of sleep apnea and snoring next week.
To your best health,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Author, Easy Health Options
1 Silverberg D.S., Iaina A, Oksenberg A, Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea Improves Essential Hypertension and Quality of Life. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Jan 15;65(2):229-237. (http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0115/p229.html)
2 Sleep. 2008 Aug;31(8):1071-8.
3 The Lancet 2002 Jan 19;359(9302):204-10
5 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reported by the National Sleep Foundation