Science
Science

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

By Mallorie Stallings

Updated March 25, 2021

 

Snoring during the night is surprisingly common. Researchers estimate that 57% of men and 40% of women snore (1) during the night. Snoring is characterized by raspy breathing and is generally more disruptive to your sleep partner than yourself, since people don’t usually wake up due to their own snoring.

Snoring is caused by a relaxation of your soft tissues (2) in the back of your throat that narrows the airway and creates a “fluttering” of your soft tissues as you breathe in and out. This fluttering causes the raspy breathing noises most commonly associated with snoring. However, snoring sound, volume, and intensity may vary among individuals (3).

How Often Is Snoring Associated with Sleep Apnea?

Snoring is the most prevalent symptom (4) of sleep apnea, occurring in approximately 85–98% of patients who are diagnosed with sleep apnea. However, not all people with sleep apnea also snore.

The snoring associated with sleep apnea differs from other types of snoring. For example, while habitual snoring may sound raspy, sleep apnea snoring (5) sounds more like gasping or choking. This gasping or choking results from a partial or complete blockage (6) of the upper airway and can also cause low oxygen levels in the blood, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and poor cognitive functioning.

What Are Other Causes Of Snoring Besides Sleep Apnea?

Snoring does not necessarily indicate that you are also experiencing sleep apnea. You could be snoring for many other reasons (7), such as:

  • Cold or allergy symptoms that limit air flow
  • Deviated or bent/altered septum
  • Pregnancy, especially during the late stages
  • Nasal polyps (8)
  • Obesity
  • Tongue or mouth shape
  • Inadequate muscle tone

Should You See a Doctor About Your Snoring?

Snoring is fairly common and not everyone who experiences snoring needs to worry. However, you should consider talking to your doctor if you are snoring and also experiencing the following symptoms (9):

  • Choking or gasping for air during sleep
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings
  • Exhaustion and fatigue during the day
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches upon waking
  • Slowness in processing thoughts (10)

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder as it can cause high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (11), in which the heart’s signals become chaotic rather than uniform and feel like an irregular fluttering. Contact your doctor if you or your partner notice your snoring becomes worse or you experience these additional symptoms.

What Are Treatments for Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Although snoring and sleep apnea are not the same, some lifestyle changes can help prevent snoring and ease sleep apnea symptoms. Certain surgeries are also potential treatments for snoring. Collaborate with your doctor when making changes to address symptoms you’re experiencing.

Lifestyle Changes to Ease Snoring

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight for Your Body. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight may reduce your snoring (12) during the night. Talk to your doctor about how to lose weight in a way that is safe and healthy.
  • Reduce Consumption of Alcohol Before Sleep. Alcohol has been shown to relax the muscles associated with snoring. As a result, reducing alcohol intake (13) could help you snore less, and help your partner sleep more soundly.
  • Reduce or Quit Smoking. People who smoke are more likely to snore during the night because smoking inflames the throat. Studies have found that quitting smoking (14) decreases snoring episodes.
  • Sleep on Your Side. Research has found that sleeping on your side (15) instead of on your back can reduce snoring episodes in those who do not have sleep apnea.

Nighttime Breathing Machines

Using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can help people with sleep apnea get a restful night's sleep and stop snoring. Currently, a CPAP machine is the most effective treatment (16) for people with sleep apnea. A CPAP machine provides a steady stream of air (17) through a mask that allows for the wearer to breathe easy throughout the night. There are a few different types of positive airway pressure (PAP) machines, so talk to your doctor about which one is right for you.

Mouth Pieces

Physical mouthpieces may be a better alternative for you if you snore or have sleep apnea and you’re unable to use a CPAP machine.

  • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD) are customizable trays that are inserted into the mouth and used to hold the jaw forward to keep your airway from becoming blocked (18).
  • Tongue Stabilizing Devices are also inserted into the mouth and prevent snoring by slightly pulling the tongue forward, thus preventing it from relaxing back (19) and blocking your airway.

Surgery

If PAP machines and mouth pieces don’t help alleviate your symptoms, or you’re having a hard time using your CPAP machine each night, your doctor may suggest surgery to help you stop snoring. Effectiveness rates of surgery to stop snoring are promising. Some studies show that surgery reduces overall snoring episodes by 70 to 100% (20). There are a variety of different types of surgeries available to help you breathe better, so talk to your doctor if you feel this is the next step in addressing your snoring issues.

Life Without Snoring

Snoring is a common problem and not always a symptom of a larger issue such as sleep apnea. Enlist the help of a partner or sleep app to get a better understanding of what your snoring sounds like, which could help you determine its cause. Try making lifestyle changes to address your snoring as well. Finally, talk to a doctor if you feel you’re experiencing symptoms beyond common snoring.

 

References

 

  1. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/snoring Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  2. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/sleep-disorders/snoring Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26518701/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30853036/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23989984/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32060260/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000720.htm Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  8. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001641.htm Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25861179/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  10. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  11. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/abnormal-heart-rhythms/atrial-fibrillation-and-atrial-flutter Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31888795/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32513091/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3258226/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12683476/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459252/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  17. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001916.htm Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26015718/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19961027/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11699245/ Accessed on March 21, 2021.