Is Snoring a Sign of Sleep Apnea?

Snoring can make sleeping very difficult, particularly for a partner. What causes snoring – and how can dwe stop? 

First, you should know that snoring is very common, and can be a symptom of a medical condition called sleep apnea. 

Snoring occurs when air vibrates over the relaxed soft tissues in the throat while we sleep. If you snore, it’s important to find out why – as sleep apnea is serious, and when not treated can lead to serious health issues.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Someone with sleep apnea has pauses in breathing up to 30 times every hour when they sleep. The resulting drop in blood/oxygen levels is one of the prompts for the brain to wake the body for air. 

Nearly 90% of those with this sleep disorder are undiagnosed -- and this constant interruption to sleep each night leads to sleep deprivation. The poor quality of sleep resulting from this disorder can lead to heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

The two main forms of sleep apnea are:

  • obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form, where the upper airways become blocked as you sleep, resulting in pauses in breathing.
  • central sleep apnea, where the temporary stoppages in breathing are caused when the brain does not send the correct signals to the muscles.

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, although it is more prevalent in older men. A large neck size, obesity and a family history of the disorder are also viewed as primary risk factors.

Research has found that middle-aged and older men were 46% more at risk of premature death if they have a severe degree of sleep apnea. As the large majority of people are unaware they have the disorder, knowing the symptoms is key.

Does Snoring Indicate Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Loud snoring or frequently awaking for air with a loud snore or gasp can be symptoms of OSA. However, just because you snore does not automatically mean you have the disorder. You can snore and not have obstructive sleep apnea. 

People who have the less common central sleep apnea are also less likely to snore.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for OSA, with excess tissue in the muscles around the throat and mouth. When you sleep, these muscles relax and the excess tissue can partially or completely block the airways. This results in the breathing cessations associated with sleep apnea as well as increase the likelihood that you will snore.

However, snoring alone will not tell you if you have OSA. The following are further symptoms of this sleep disorder:

  • Frequent awakenings at night
  • Excessive daytime fatigue
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in morning
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Teeth grinding

Your partner will likely first notice your snoring and that you are awakening frequently through the night for air. While snoring can be the first warning sign, if you notice any of these symptoms you should consult with a sleep specialist who can arrange a sleep test to check for OSA.

Why Diagnosis Is So Important

As we mentioned, untreated OSA can increase the risk of serious health problems and even premature death. As obesity can be a major risk factor, lifestyle changes -- a healthier diet and more exercise -- can be enough to reduce or eliminate OSA symptoms for those with mild to moderate OSA.

An oral device similar to a mouthguard may be recommended, as it moves the jaws forward – into a position that helps keep the airways open through the night. 

CPAP therapy may be prescribed for people who wake up to 30 times an hour or more. This treatment involves a machine to deliver a steady stream of pressurized air through a mask worn as you sleep. This also helps keep your airways clear overnight, preventing the blockages that cause the breathing difficulties.

By treating OSA and removing the symptoms affecting your restorative sleep, you improve your overall health. You reduce the risk of the health issues linked to the disorder. 

Other Reasons You May Snore

Just because someone snores, they may not have OSA, but it can be an important warning sign which should not be ignored.

Factors which can cause snoring include:

  • Obesity – the additional fat around the throat can still cause you to snore, even if it is not blocking your airways and stopping your breathing.

Studies found a weight loss of 17 lbs in a research group of men pretty much got rid of their snoring, while even a 7 lb weight loss had a significant impact on how much they snored.

  • Smoking – this can cause inflammation of the tissues in the airways.
  • Alcohol – drinking alcohol close to bed can relax the muscles in the throat, narrowing the airways.
  • Nasal congestion – airways become blocked, which can be addressed using a nasal spray or nasal strips. A similar approach will help tackle issues arising from allergies.

Final Thoughts

Sleep is crucial to overall health, both physical and mental. Any sleep disorder which leads to poor quality sleep can be damaging to your health -- and if you snore this can be the first indication of obstructive sleep apnea. 

If you or your partner recognizes any of the symptoms of OSA, you can arrange to speak with a SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialist who can advise you on whether they feel you would benefit from a sleep test. 

Once diagnosed, obstructive sleep apnea can be treated, helping eliminate the symptoms including snoring, a win for both you and your partner.