According to the National Sleep Foundation, around 90 million adult Americans snore. Of those, approximately 18 million suffer from the serious sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea. Knowing the difference between the two could save your life.
AdventHealth provides more insight on when snoring can affect your whole health.
What is Snoring?
Snoring is a sound that happens when your upper airway gets partially blocked when you're asleep. Certain lifestyle factors, like elevated body weight and alcohol consumption, can make the vibrations louder.
Snoring can also occur from a combination of additional factors - muscles becoming relaxed during sleep, a structurally narrow airway, increase in neck size and or fatty tissue. As you age your neck muscles relax and airway will close off more easily.
In sleep apnea, the airway becomes fully or partially obstructed, causing your body to have shallow respiratory or event to stop breathing for short periods. When air isn't moving in and out of the lungs, oxygen levels can fall in the blood. Over time, drops in oxygen can lead to serious, even deadly consequences.
Not only that, but your healthy sleep cycle can be disrupted. Your brain triggers you to wake up so you can breathe better resulting in interrupted sleep.
When left untreated, sleep apnea can cause:
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Daytime sleepiness
- Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Sleep apnea can afflict both genders and any age group, but it's more common in men. There are a few other factors that raise a person's risk of having sleep apnea. If you have an elevated body mass index (BMI), large neck, narrow airway, or large tonsils, you are at increased risk. Additionally, certain substances such as alcohol, opiate pain medications and other sedatives can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
How to Know if Snoring is Sleep Apnea
There are a few red flags to look for, but the only way to truly diagnose sleep apnea is by undergoing a sleep study.
If you're a known snorer, ask your spouse to observe your sleep and notice if you seem to stop breathing, choke or gasp for air during the night.
Also, pay attention to how sleepy you feel during the day. Do you often wake up feeling so tired that you can hardly get yourself out of bed? It happens to all of us from time to time, but if it becomes a daily struggle, signs could point to sleep apnea.
Other warning signs include morning headaches, inability to concentrate, memory problems, irritability and other mood changes, and dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up.
Once sleep apnea is diagnosed, there are several treatment options to consider. The most common is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
Using a CPAP usually eliminate snoring and breathing pauses, and in the majority of patients' CPAP is effective in treating sleep apnea and improves daytime sleepiness, level of alertness and quality of life.
Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol are often recommended to help minimize sleep apnea symptoms. Rarely, more serious cases may be treated with surgery.
With these treatments, the dangers of sleep apnea can be all but eliminated. Treatment can reduce the long-term consequences of untreated sleep apnea, and you'll have more restorative sleep. This often means you'll also experience some secondary benefits like improved mood, school or work performance, and increased energy levels.
Find Help to Stop Snoring
If you snore, don't ignore your warning signs. Your health may depend on it.
To learn more about the resources available to help you manage your snoring and combat sleep apnea, find a sleep specialist near you.