Is Snoring A Health Issue?
Too often, snoring is treated as an annoyance, rather than a serious health concern. While some snoring can be alleviated by changing things like your sleeping position, not all snoring is created equal. Snoring – with or without sleep apnea – can be an indication of serious health issues.
Why do we snore?
Not only does snoring annoy and disrupt those around you, but snoring inhibits healthy, restorative sleep. As you probably already know, lack of quality sleep can make you tired, frustrated and irritable. Snoring is a form of sleep-disordered breathing and it is linked to increased risks for other health problems like heart disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety. Factors like your body weight, health, and the shape of your mouth and throat can all contribute to the reasons behind your snoring.
What causes all that noise?
Snoring is the vibration caused by air passing through a partially narrowed or blocked airway. While we sleep, the muscles in our throat and mouth start to relax. This relaxation narrows the trachea, your “windpipe”, that carries air to and from the lungs, diminishing airflow when you breathe. Within the narrowed airway, the tissues of the soft palate and uvula shake and vibrate. This vibration causes the sound of snoring.
What does it mean?
There are risk factors that increase your likelihood of having a snoring problem including age, being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking and sleeping on your back. Snoring can often be a symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a more serious form of sleep-disrupted breathing. People with sleep apnea experience periodic interruptions to their breathing during sleep, as the airway closes and temporarily cuts off normal airflow. These interruptions can be occasional, with mild sleep apnea, or they can happen frequently throughout the night, with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
OSA is caused by a significant narrowing of the airway that reduces air flow to the lungs. The brain recognizes the lack of air and triggers an arousal response which disrupts sleep. An individual can experience up to 600 arousal triggers in a single night without even realizing their sleep was interrupted. Furthermore, OSA increases risks for other conditions, including high blood pressure and other forms of cardiovascular disease, obesity, memory and other cognitive problems, and is proven to lead to an increased risk for accidents.
Should I Be Concerned?
Here are seven conditions linked to snoring that you should know about:
It’s commonly known that overeating and under-exercising can cause unwanted weight gain, but did you know that snoring can also facilitate weight gain?
When you’re snoring, your sleep is disturbed and the quality is lowered. Sleep deprivation can influence our habits and appetite without us even realizing it. When we’re sleepy, we tend to crave foods with higher sugar and carbohydrate content, for the quick burst of energy they provide. These types of food trigger a spike in energy which is unfortunately followed by a sharp crash.
A more surprising side-effect of snoring is morning headaches. In fact, in one study, 24% of chronic daily headache sufferers were also habitual snorers! When you’re snoring, you’re not receiving sufficient oxygen, allowing for carbon dioxide to build in the blood, causing headache as well as memory and mood changes (Jeanetta Rains, PhD).
Risk of Injury
As individuals get less sleep, overall safety risk increases. When you’re snoring, the quality of your sleep suffers greatly, and you’re more likely to feel fatigued. This leads to reduced alertness, reaction time, and impaired decision making. In the workplace, a single worker’s sleep deprivation can put not only themselves at risk, but can put others in unsafe conditions, too.
Heart Disease & Stroke
Snoring also adds considerable strain to the heart. In particular, if the snoring is a side effect of sleep apnea, it can be “a risk factor for the development of high blood pressure, and high blood pressure tends to lead to cardiovascular disease” (Dr. Lawrence Epstein). This may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of both stroke and/or heart attack.
Mental Health Issues
Sleep and mental health are closely linked. Poor sleep can worsen symptoms of depression, while making us more vulnerable to stress and anxiety. The good news is that quality sleep can help alleviate the same symptoms! Research has also shown that treating a sleep disorder may improve symptoms of a co-occuring mental health problem.
How can I treat my snoring?
If you snore regularly, it’s so important that you bring it up with your doctor. In many cases, a sleep study could be recommended, to help you get to the bottom of why you’re snoring. Even if you’ve been a snorer for your entire life, you can make the decision to treat it now, and reduce your risk of these conditions.
If you, or someone you love snores on a regular basis, we recommend you take a free take-home sleep assessment!