Snoring is completely normal, right? Loud snoring that wakes up my spouse or pet and sometimes even wakes me up is a pretty normal thing. I know tons of my friends who do it too. It's normal to snore... isn't it?
I hear the statements above (or some variation of them) a lot. Snoring is something that people tease one another about or, at worse, causes arguments between spouses about who deserves to sleep on the couch more. But, in truth, the majority of snoring is not a normal process of sleeping. And it can mean some serious problems for your health if left untreated.
Most snoring (about 70%) is caused by a literal obstruction in the throat. The sound of persistent nightly snoring can be explained by tissue in the throat or mouth that is obstructing air and causing the classic flapping or snorting sound that is the typical snore. So when I put it that way, doesn't it sound a lot more dangerous and a lot less "normal"?
If the majority of snoring is caused by an actual physical obstruction of the airway, what does that mean for the oxygen in the body when the obstruction occurs? This idea is the underlying problem behind sleep apnea - the obstruction caused by your soft palate, or throat tissue surrounding it, can cause full blockages of your airway allowing no oxygen to enter your body for the entire length of the apneic episode (which can be up to one minute or longer and can occur up to a hundred times per night). I often ask newly diagnosed patients to attempt to hold their breath for intervals up to one minute throughout an hour or longer period. Inevitably, they cannot or do not want to do it because it is uncomfortable, wearing on the body, and just plain exhausting. Well, in cases of untreated sleep apnea, this is exactly what's happening to your body every night while you sleep.
And to add insult to major injury, sleep apnea deprives you of the most restful and restoring stage of sleep, REM sleep that you direly need to feel well rested in the morning. As your body realizes it's not receiving any oxygen, it sends out an alert to wake you up, thereby allowing you to restart your breathing or clear the obstruction. You may wake-up 40 or 50 times a night and not realize it, besides the telltale signs of sleep deprivation the next day.
So how do you know if you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the most common form of sleep apnea? Well, you won't know for sure until you see a pulmonologist or sleep specialist and have some sort of sleep test, but there are some pretty obvious signs that can point in the sleep disorder direction:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
- Excessive sleepiness or fatigue even after a long night of sleep
- Making choking or gagging noises while sleeping
- Loud and persistent snoring
- Waking up with a very dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Chronic depression
- Frequent need to urinate at night
- Nighttime acid reflux or indigestion
- Night sweats
- Decreased libido or impotence
- Cardiovascular disease
- Slow metabolism
- Daytime fogginess
- Mood swings
And many more...
If you speak with your doctor about your concerns, he will most likely refer you for a sleep study as the estimate of Americans with sleep apnea has grown to 20 million people affected, many of whom are not diagnosed.
Remember, snoring shouldn't be a normal part of your sleep, and it is even more concerning if it is accompanied by any of the above symptoms.
To read more about symptoms of sleep apnea, visit:
Evaluate Your Sleep
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms