Anyone who has ever been told that they snore while they sleep has likely brushed it off as a commonplace sleep habit, but it’s much deeper than that. On the surface, snoring can seem more annoying than anything, especially to other people sharing a bed, room, or house with the snorer! Those who snore may find themselves waking up at night, sometimes awoken by the sounds of their own breaths, thus facing constantly interrupted sleep. It’s fascinating what humans can get used to because most people who snore are getting very low-quality rest and are suffering in ways they probably don’t notice day to day.
What Causes Snoring?
When the human body is at rest, almost all muscles (that don’t support vital organ function) are entirely relaxed. That includes the muscles in the back of the throat and mouth. The area that intersects a person’s ears, nose, and mouth passages at the back of the throat play a significant role in snoring, and the tissues that reside in that part of the body can change over time based on various factors. Also, elements like seasonable allergies, poor air quality, deviated septum, and obesity can cause tissues in the back of the throat to become problematic and lead to snoring.
Is it Snoring or Sleep Apnea?
Recently, much light has been shown on the causes and effects of sleep apnea, leading people to question whether their snoring is harmless and temporary or something more serious. When a person is unusually congested due to allergies, illness, or temporary impairment, it’s called “primary snoring,” It differs from a more severe condition. Those with obstructive sleep apnea, also known as OSA, have effects of more prolonged snoring, such as daytime sleepiness caused by constantly blocked airways in the back of the throat.
The following snoring symptoms should alert an individual to seek professional medical guidance:
- Disrupted sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Nighttime sweating
- Breathing irregularities
- Bathroom trips at night
- Behavioral moodiness
- Focus difficulties
- High blood pressure
- Heartbeat irregularities
- Dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Changes in libido
Who is Most at Risk?
Research shows that those who snore and are at the most considerable risk of obstructive sleep apnea are men who are overweight. Over 40% of men and 24% of women snore regularly, however, so both are at risk of this chronic condition. People who drink more than one drink per day are also are higher risk, obviously increasing with alcohol intake levels.
Those with comorbidities are also at a greater risk of suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. The most common and significant conditions include:
Obesity: People with a high BMI ranging from overweight to obesity have extra fat deposits around their necks that contribute to restriction of the airway.
Endocrine disorders: The job of the endocrine system is to release hormones into the body that regulate various functions. Hypothyroidism may occur when not working correctly, causing low levels of thyroid and acromegaly, leading to a spike in growth hormone levels. Hypogonadism decreases testosterone production, which can also lead to irregular changes in the body.
Enlarged tonsils: Because tonsils and adenoids are located in the back of the throat, any swelling of those tissues will obstruct the airway. It’s not uncommon for very young children to have their tonsils removed if they show signs of OSA.
Genetics: Some people acquire unique genetic traits from their parents, including jaw shape, cleft palates, deviated septum, and other congenital central hypoventilation syndromes that can affect breathing effectiveness, increasing the risk of OSA.
People who have sleep apnea are measured and diagnosed, most often, by the apnea-hypopnea index (or AHI), which measures the number of breathing pauses per house during a patient’s sleep cycle. People with AHI levels of 5-15 episodes an hour are considered to be mild, 15-30 are moderate, while those with an AHI level of over 30 are at severe risk.
How can Snoring be Reduced?
While mild-to-moderate cases of OSA can be remedied with oral appliances and more severe cases with a CPAP machine, some people only experience occasional sleep apnea that is not a chronic condition. For very mild cases that score low on the AHI test, patients are encouraged to do the following:
- Weight loss: even a reduction of 10lbs can make a difference
- Elevation: using a sloped pillow or mattress that can be adjusted to elevate the torso
- Side sleeping: tissues in the back of the throat are less likely to droop and obstruct the airway
- Smoking cessation: cigarettes and smoke can affect breathing ability and cause inflammation
- Avoiding substances: muscle relaxers, alcohol, and opioids can all cause throat muscle to slack
More specific issues such as chronic allergies, sinus infections, and related conditions can be discussed with an ENT or ear, nose, and throat doctor. Patients will sometimes find that the source of their apnea is more pertaining to specific breathing issues that can be fixed with medication or surgical procedures to provide relief.
Several different kinds of oral appliances can be used in these circumstances that are both affordable and comfortable for the wearer. Some work as simply as placing the jaw into a more optimal position when the patient is biting down while they sleep. People with jaw or bite irregularities most commonly find snoring relief using oral appliances and can speak to their dentists or orthodontists to explore their options.
Now that we’ve learned more about the seriousness of snoring, it should no longer be regarded as a quirk or bad sleeping habit. While certainly annoying, these snoring sounds are the body signaling that something is wrong and not working properly. People who experience snoring are highly encouraged to speak with their dentists or doctors to discuss their risk level and look further into a potential diagnosis with the help of sleep specialists to find the best solution. Doing this could potentially prevent severe and even potentially fatal health conditions in the future.