Snoring, schnozzes, and sleep apnea
Ahh, the sweet sound of a jet engine, all night long, from the pillow next to yours. Snoring is annoying whether it’s happening to you or the person sleeping next to you, but it may also be a warning sign. If you or someone you love (and sleep next to) have trouble sleeping due to snoring, you’ll want to read on.
Is Snoring the Same as Sleep Apnea?
Snoring and sleep apnea are closely related but not the same. Snoring, or the hoarse sound of air flowing past the relaxed tissues of your throat, is something a majority of people do from time-to-time.
But it’s also usually the first warning sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which the airway closes up and briefly makes it impossible to breathe. OSA is often described by bed partners as very loud snoring punctuated by lapses in breathing in which the snorer appears to pause before taking another breath.
Other warning signs for sleep apnea include:
- Waking abruptly with shortness of breath
- Waking up choking or gasping for air
- Consistently experiencing a dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
- Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
- Consistently experiencing sleepiness during the day
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss or shortened attention span
- Irritability or mood swings
- Lack of libido or sexual dysfunction
The defining difference is the pause in breathing involved in sleep apnea. While around 40 percent of adults over 40 snore, only around 28 percent of the total snoring population experience sleep apnea. It is important to note, however, that doctors believe a significant percentage of people struggling with sleep apnea go undiagnosed and untreated, so that figure is likely higher.
How do I know if I’m not ~just~ snoring?
Doctors diagnose sleep apnea based on an evaluation of symptoms and tests. The physical examination typically includes the back of your throat, mouth, and nose in search of abnormalities like extra tissue. Your doctor may also measure the circumference of your waist and neck.
Depending on the results of your test, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist to address any potential blockages. Additionally, they could refer you to a sleep specialist. They would conduct overnight tests to measure your breathing patterns and oxygen levels while you sleep.
How do Snoring and Sleep Apnea Relate to Nasal Breathing?
OSA occurs more often in people who breathe through their mouth due to a pressure differential between the mouth and the lungs. When you inhale through your mouth, air passes over the loose tissue of your throat and causes that tissue to vibrate and flutter, causing throat farts (a.k.a. snoring).
That funny sound quickly turns serious when the air pressure creates a vacuum strong enough to close your throat. It’s terrifying when you’re unable to catch a breath, even for just a second. In contrast, air traveling through your nasal passages faces more resistance and therefore, creates less of a vacuum effect.
Now, if you’re thinking, “that’s great, but I can’t breathe through my nose at night,” I’ve got some good news for you. Many people find that using a nasal dilator, such as Hale-Aid, allows them to breathe comfortably through their nose at night.
Nose breathing is also more efficient and less dehydrating than mouth breathing. This helps you wake without many of the negative side effects of snoring. Breathing exclusively through the nose at night filters microbes, toxins, and other small particles, thereby reducing your chances of infection.
Negative Side Effects Associated with Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Chronic snoring is associated with a slew of negative side effects including an increased likelihood of car accidents. When chronic snoring includes periods of apnea, the risks become even more serious.
Prolonged sleep apnea causes fatigue to the heart muscle that leads to malfunction. In addition to cardiovascular problems it’s associated with several health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Sleep apnea increases your risk of sudden death almost twofold, according to Virend Sommers, M.D., Ph.D., who authored a study about the subject in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. During a five-year study of over 10,000 adults with sleep apnea, 142 of the participants died of sudden cardiac death.
In children, sleep apnea can be the underlying (and often undetected) cause of behavioral, developmental and learning issues. Johns Hopkins Medicine estimates 10 to 20 percent of children who snore experience sleep apnea, which amounts to roughly three percent of all children.
Negative side effects associated with sleep apnea in children include:
- Below-average growth in height and weight
- Difficulty at school
- Difficulty paying attention
- Irritability or frustration
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times
Potential Solutions to Alleviate Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Ways to naturally alleviate snoring and sleep apnea include:
- Weight loss (if you are overweight) and maintaining a healthy weight
- Regular cardiovascular exercises like brisk walking, bike-riding or swimming
- Yoga or other practices that incorporate stretching with deep breathing
- Avoiding cigarettes and alcohol
- Use a humidifier in your bedroom at night
For immediate relief, many people turn to nasal sleep aids. There are some products on the market that have demonstrated the ability to alleviate snoring and potentially reduce apnea events by improving airflow.
Depending on the cause of your sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend surgery. One common option is a surgery that involves taking cartilage from your body and placing it in your nose. The cartilage serves as a stent to keep your nasal airways open.
Alternatively, the Hale-Aid device is designed to mimic this procedure without the need for surgery. It provides discreet support for your airways from inside the nose to make nasal breathing easier, day or night.