Snoring & Sleep Apnea

snoring and sleep

Snoring isn’t something that most of us worry about. But loud snoring—especially when it’s accompanied by daytime fatigue—may be a sign of sleep apnea, a common and potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can be dangerous and detrimental to your health, so it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect that you or a loved one might have it. Read on to learn the warning signs of sleep apnea, how to distinguish it from normal snoring, the medical treatments available, and what you can do to help yourself.

Sleep apnea affects the way you breathe when you’re sleeping. In untreated sleep apnea, breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. These breathing pauses typically last between 10 to 20 seconds and can occur up to hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your natural sleep rhythm. As a consequence, you spend more time in light sleep and less time in the deep, restorative sleep you need to be energetic, mentally sharp, and productive the next day.

The chronic sleep deprivation that comes with sleep apnea results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. But with treatment, you can control the symptoms, get your sleep back on track, and start enjoying being refreshed and alert every day.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, often causing you to snore loudly. Central sleep apnea is a much less common type of sleep apnea that involves the central nervous system, occurring when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. People with central sleep apnea seldom snore. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Major signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Loud and chronic snoring almost every night
  • Choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Waking up at night feeling short of breath
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue, no matter how much time you spend in bed

Sleep Apnea Treatment

If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, or you’ve tried self-help strategies and lifestyle changes without success, it’s important to follow up with a sleep doctor who can evaluate your symptoms and help you find an effective treatment. Treatment for sleep apnea has come a long way in recent times, so take some time to explore the new options. Even if you were unhappy with sleep apnea treatment in the past, chances are you can find something that works and feels comfortable to you.

Treatments for central and complex sleep apnea usually include:

  • Treating the underlying medical condition causing the apnea, such as a heart or neuromuscular disorder
  • Using supplemental oxygen while you sleep
  • Using breathing devices that will also manage obstructive sleep apnea

Medications are only available to treat the sleepiness associated with sleep apnea, not the apnea itself, so they should only be used in conjunction with other proven sleep apnea treatments.