Most of us snore from time to time. It tends to be a partner who first notices your snoring, particularly if it is affecting their sleep. Occasionally your loud snoring may even awake you, too.
Yet the tendency is to pass snoring off as just one of those things, an annoying habit which at worse can put a strain on your relationship with your partner. However, loud snoring is a primary symptom of sleep apnea, a disorder which can be placing your overall health — including your heart health — at risk.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the disorder sleep apnea, and is characterized by frequent interruptions to sleep. More prevalent in men than women, it is estimated one in five adults suffer with at least a mild form of this sleep disorder.
This occurs when the upper airways collapse and block as you sleep, resulting in breathing difficulties. The brain responds by prompting the body to awake for air. These interruptions to breathing can happen up to thirty times every hour in more severe cases of OSA, sometimes with the sufferer gasping for air when they awake.
Although frequent awakening and loud snoring are two of the main symptoms, there are other signs for potential sleep apnea. These include:
- Morning headaches
- Dry mouth in the morning
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating when awake
Anyone who thinks they may have the signs of sleep apnea should seek a consultation with a physician at their earliest convenience.
Sleep Apnea and Heart Health
The frequent interruptions to breathing and the subsequent effects of sleep deprivation can increase your risk of serious health complications. Left undiagnosed, OSA can take a significant toll on your heart’s health, most likely due to high blood pressure.
Stress hormones released to cope with the reduction in oxygen each time the airways block can result in heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US. The increase in stress hormones can lead to high blood pressure and the continuous surges in blood pressure levels may produce a thickening of the heart’s walls, impacting on the organ’s ability to function correctly.
As well as these health issues, sleep apnea also increases the risk of the following conditions:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Liver problems
Am I at Risk For Sleep Apnea?
Obesity is one of the primary risk factors for developing sleep apnea. The upper airways can collapse or narrow overnight as you lay down to sleep due to excess tissue around the throat.
Unfortunately, when excess weight is a significant factor in sleep apnea it can end in a vicious cycle, as an imbalance in the hormones which control appetite, triggered by sleep deprivation, may lead to overeating. However, those with thick necks or who have enlarged tonsils could also be at increased risk as it may have the same impact on the upper airways when relaxed during sleep.
As mentioned earlier, men tend to be at more risk of this sleep disorder than women, and age can also be a factor, with the older you are increasing the likelihood of experiencing the symptoms. A family history of sleep apnea cannot be discounted either when considering potential risk factors and neither can lifestyle factors. Smoking and alcohol may see your odds of developing OSA increase.
Diagnosis and Testing
Diagnosis is hugely important as sleep apnea is manageable when treated. While snoring does not automatically mean you have sleep apnea, if you are a loud snorer it is still worth being assessed by your doctor.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious health repercussions, so a test could put your mind at ease.
In-home tests can be delivered to your home for convenience, and Millennium Sleep Lab can set this up right away — along with a consultation with a sleep specialist. With an in-home test, you’re sleeping comfortably in your own bed with a small monitor attached to your fingertip; it’s just that simple.
Treating Sleep Apnea
The test will show whether you have sleep apnea or not — and will indicate the severity of your sleep apnea, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. People with severe sleep apnea can experience around thirty interruptions to their breathing each hour as they sleep, with all the damage this can cause to heart health.
For anyone with mild sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may be recommended to address the symptoms and return you to consistently good nights of restorative sleep. As obesity can be a primary risk factor, your doctor or sleep specialist may work with you to implement a more balanced diet or to help you exercise more. Smokers will most likely be asked to quit, while any alcohol consumption should be reduced.
Simple changes also encourage sleep, such as not drinking caffeine prior to bed time or eating heavy meals later in the evening. You may also be encouraged to optimize your bedroom for sleep by removing screens and creating a darker environment, while also developing a night-time routine.
Treating Moderate to Severe Sleep Apnea
These patients are generally advised to use the leading treatment, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This involves a device which supplies pressurized air through a mask worn when sleeping.
The airflow ensures the upper airways remain open throughout the night, removing the interruptions to breathing and therefore the frequent awakening and subsequent sleep deprivation.
Another option: For milder cases, the sleep specialist may also recommend a device that looks like a mouthguard, which when worn overnight is similarly designed to allow the airways to remain open.
Without treatment, sleep apnea can have serious health implications for our hearts and our overall health. Therefore, testing and diagnosis is crucial as treatment can reduce and potentially eliminate the debilitating symptoms.
If you feel you display the symptoms of OSA, including snoring loudly, book an appointment with our Millennium Sleep Lab sleep specialist. We’re happy to get your started on this journey to good health and great sleep.
Your relationship with your partner will improve as well, once your snoring stops — and you both can sleep peacefully. Take the first step today!