Please welcome Dr. Anthony DiMarco, MD, Medical Director and Professor of Physiology at Case Western Reserve University
Science of Snoring

The Science of Snoring: Is Your Health at Risk?

The Science of Snoring: Is Your Health at Risk?

That irritating sound you hear at night may seem like a normal part of sleeping, but snoring can actually be dangerous to your health.

We wanted to take a moment to answer the most common questions that our patients have about snoring. Read on to review the risk factors and signs that someone’s snoring may be a more serious health concern.

Why Do People Snore?

We all know the sound well, but you may not know what causes snoring. The noise you hear is made when a sleeping person inhales. As air flows in through the mouth or nose, parts of the upper airway vibrate, including the tongue, soft palate, tonsils, adenoids, uvula and walls of the throat.

Snoring does not occur while we are awake because the muscles in the airway are more tense. While we sleep, however, these muscles relax and the soft tissues collapse, restricting the amount of space available for air to pass. The point where the tongue, throat and soft palate meet can collapse at the back of the throat during sleep and severely limit the airway.

Generally, as the airway becomes narrower, more tissue vibrates. Loud snoring is the result of both a relatively constricted airway and turbulent airflow through those lax passages.

What Are the Main Factors Causing Loud Snoring?

Snoring is generally more common among men and people who are overweight or obese. It also tends to run in families and get worse with age. Here are some of the other temporary and structural factors that may cause someone to snore loudly:

  • Having a deviated septum which restricts airflow through the nose,
  • Having low muscle tone in the throat, often due to age or being unfit,
  • Having enlarged tonsils, especially in children,
  • Having an undersized jaw or overbite,
  • Having congested nasal passages, sometimes due to allergies or a cold,
  • Drinking alcohol or taking medications that cause drowsiness and cause the muscles to relax further,
  • Smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke.

When is Snoring Dangerous?

Loud snoring on its own is not dangerous, but it can be a sign of a more serious condition. In fact, it is a symptom that is commonly associated with obstructive sleep apnea. For people affected by sleep apnea, the airway becomes so restricted when they lie down and sleep that inhaling becomes difficult or it cuts off the airway completely. As the brain becomes deprived of oxygen, it causes the person to jolt awake just enough to start breathing again. This cycle of sleep and sudden waking occurs in short intervals and can happen even hundreds of times through the night.

Not only does this cause loud snoring, but sleep apnea can have severe repercussions for your health. Someone with sleep apnea is affected each night by decreased oxygen levels and obtains little to no restful REM sleep. In the short term, this results in a general groggy feeling when they wake up and drowsiness throughout the day. In the long term, it can lead to clumsiness, car accidents, memory problems, as well as hypertension. Sleep apnea has also been associated with obesity, higher instances of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and depression, just to name a few.

Sleep apnea is not the only danger, noisy snoring has also been shown to be an independent risk factor for hypertension, atherosclerosis and other health problems. Research shows that it is actually a stronger predictor of heart attacks or strokes than being overweight, smoking or high cholesterol. The exact relationship between snoring and these health issues is still being studied, but it is an important sign that it is more than just a symptom. Instead, we are finding that snoring should be treated even without evidence of sleep apnea.

Should I Be Concerned if My Child Snores?

The short answer is: probably not. Snoring is not entirely uncommon for children; some studies have shown that more than 10% of kids snore regularly at night. In about 1 to 3% of children, snoring may be a symptom of something more serious. Loud snoring in younger patients may be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids or obstructive sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor or pediatrician if your child regularly snores loudly.

How Can I Stop Snoring?

This is a very common question. Whether seeking better quality sleep or a way to be less disruptive to a spouse or loved one during the night, many patients want to stop snoring. There are a number of ways that you can address snoring, from lifestyle changes to over-the-counter products and medical devices.

Firstly, doctors recommend some key lifestyle changes in order to alleviate snoring and decrease the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. These include:

  • Quit smoking,
  • Lose weight,
  • Decrease alcohol consumption,
  • Avoid sedatives and sleeping pills,
  • Treating allergy symptoms.

Patients who come in for sleep evaluations have often tried a wide variety of techniques and products to stop snoring.

For example, nasal strips can help reduce snoring caused by blocked or congested airways in the nose. Some people bothered by their snoring have had limited success with homemade tricks to encourage sleeping upright or on their side, rather than flat on their back. These tend to be only temporary solutions that are uncomfortable and disruptive to restful sleep.

For patients with obstructive sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and adjustable dental positioning devices, known as TAP, are usually the first treatment options recommended. These devices are designed to ensure that patients get enough oxygen during the night and help them get more restful sleep. Most patients with sleep apnea respond well to this type of treatment.

Where Can I Find Help for a Sleep Disorder?

Sleep Health Solutions is specialized in diagnosing sleep disorders and helping patients finally feel rested.

Contact Sleep Health Solutions by calling (330) 923-0228 or use our contact form below to request a consultation today.

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