Snoring has long been a prevalent condition upsetting many people’s lives. Nearly 50% of middle-aged adults have some episode of snoring in their lifetime. Let’s see, that is about 75 million Americans. Talk about making a lot of noise!
Some people are regular snorers; others not so much. The degree of loudness also varies with each individual. The odd thing about it is that snoring is accepted as normal. People don’t often think about it as anything more than an inconvenience maybe because it’s difficult to find ways to stop snoring. We tend to think it is an accepted part of growing older.
Well how many of us have slept with someone that keeps them up all night with their snoring? It can be a nightmare. And, no one talks about the consequences it has on a person’s health. There is more evidence that snoring is not just a nuisance but is connected to increased morbidity rates including cardiovascular disease, impaired cognitive function, sleep apnea, diabetes and obesity. Not to mention not being able to stay awake at your day job and the accidents that can happen as a result!
Several factors can influence the snoring as well as its intensity such as:
– Prolonged inactivity
– Tobacco smoking
– Sedative drugs
– Sleep position, and
– Stages of sleep
Sleep position, sleep architecture, and breathing routes provide some clues as to what structures are restricting airflow which in turn leads to increased respiratory resistance, or snoring. For instance, if you are sleeping on your back with your mouth closed, the most likely airway obstruction is the result of your tongue falling into the back of your throat caused by gravity.
If you are sleeping on your back with your mouth open, the lower jaw and tongue as also subjected to gravity and this can cause a subsequent collapse of the airway which magnifies the obstruction. Sleeping on your side lessens the influence of gravity but does not necessarily stop snoring.
It’s natural for people to change sleep position during the night. In response, the snoring mechanism also changes. Multiple parts of the upper airway can obstruct the airflow differently. This is one reason doctors find it difficult to recommend surgery because it’s hard to identify the exact offending structure. In part, this could be why surgery success rates for snoring are so low.
We tend to laugh at snorers and make jokes about them. But in reality, snoring is not a laughing matter. It can be a serious and even life-threatening situation.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is considered a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. Each episode lasts long enough so that one or more breaths are missed. This can happen repeatedly throughout the night and the interval between breaths is typically at least 10 seconds. Clinically significant levels of sleep apnea are defined as five or more episodes per hour.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common category of sleep-disordered breathing, and it requires treatment to prevent sleep deprivation and other complications including congestive heart failure. Combine OSA with being overweight, and you have an even bigger problem.
Breathing can continue to become shallower until it actually stops for a period of time, at first short periods of time that can become longer, with the cycle repeating all night long. This can lead to more serious health problems.
How is Snoring and Sleep Apnea Treated?
Some treatments involve lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol or muscle relaxants. You will probably be told to lose weight and quit smoking. Many people benefit from sleeping at a 30 degree angle or higher as if in a recliner because gravity has less of a chance to get at your breathing patterns and collapse your airway.
Sleeping on your side as opposed to your back is recommended but rarely solves the whole problem. Some people find benefit from various kinds of oral appliances that are used in the mouth during sleep and help keep the airway open.
Equipment called “breathing machines” like the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may help also. And, there are surgical procedures that can be used to remove and tighten tissue and/or widen your airway. Of course, surgery should be a last resort.