Snoring and Sleep Apnea – How Are They Related?

Sleep is a very important part of our lives. According to experts we should have approximately 9 hours of restful sleep to properly “recharge our batteries” so we are bright, bouncy, and full of energy to face each new day. If sleeping disorders interrupt out sleep patterns, or reduce the amount of restful sleep that we get, this will have an adverse effect on our ability to function efficiently the next day. Sleep apnea is one such disorder, and in this article we are going to take a quick look at snoring and sleep apnea to see how they are related, why they happen, and to discuss how they can be cured.

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Snoring is certainly related to sleep Apnea and it one of the easiest symptoms to spot, indeed it can often be a cause of some consternation between partners. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you snore you have Sleep Apnea, but on the other hand, 99% of the people who do have what is termed professionally “OSA”, (Obstructive Sleep Apnea), do snore, so in this context snoring and sleep apnea are inextricably linked.

Let’s first deal with what is meant by OSA. OSA refers to a condition where people have incidents where breathing stops for a short period, (often longer than 10 seconds), during sleep. It interrupts your sleep pattern, lightening your sleep phase; but in most cases, the sufferer does not awaken, and will therefore probably not even be aware of the disorder. In order to see how snoring and sleep apnea are connected we need to take a quick look at the possible causes.

When awake, the muscles in the upper throat keep the airway open allowing us to breath. When we sleep however, these upper throat muscles relax, but with the majority of people their airway remains open. But in some people, the throat area is more narrow and when they sleep it closes entirely, causing labored breathing and snoring. From time to time their breathing actually stops for brief periods and this is what is referred to as sleep apnea.

In many cases, as mentioned above, snoring and sleep apnea can be diagnosed by your partner. It is usual with a person suffering from sleep apnea that they will begin snoring heavily as soon as they fall asleep. When they stop snoring for a short time, followed by a gasp, or very often a loud “snort”, this indicates that breathing has stopped and restarted. For any partner, this can be extremely frustrating, and for the apnea sufferer, it will lead to excessive drowsiness during the day, because their sleep pattern is being continually disrupted, even if they do not wake.

If you sleep alone, there are other symptoms that you can be alert for that may indicate you suffer from snoring and sleep apnea, and you can then make an appointment for a consultation with your doctor. The symptoms include:

• Severe drowsiness during the day and falling asleep inappropriately.
• Waking from sleep unrefreshed
• Possible feelings of depression
• Feelings of lethargy
• Poor memory
• Poor concentration
• Morning headaches
• Possible personality changes
• Hyperactivity in children
• Swelling of the legs

In order for your doctor to successfully and categorically diagnose snoring and sleep apnea you will have to undergo a polysomnogram, (sleep diagnosis). Other tests your doctor may instigate include arterial blood gas analysis; and electrocardiogram (ECG), and echocardiogram, and/or thyroid function analysis.

There are certain things that you can do try and cure or minimize snoring and sleep apnea. These include: avoiding alcohol or taking any form of sedation near bedtime; inserting a device that projects the jaw more forward, and weight loss. If these are unsuccessful, your doctor may suggest CPAP, (continuous positive airway pressure). There are also a couple of surgical options; UPPP (Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty) which involve removing excess tissue from the back of the throat; a tracheotomy, (very rarely done), or for children, the removal of tonsils.

With proper treatment, snoring and sleep apnea can be cured or controlled, but many people are not prepared to have CPAP as they feel it is too invasive.

Alternative treatments include Yoga, whose breathing exercises can help to strengthen to throat muscles sufficiently to prevent of lessen the effects of snoring and apnea. Some people find that changing their sleeping position can help, in particular raising the upper half of their torso by approximately 30 degrees which can enable the force of gravity to help.

It is however important that sufferers of snoring and sleep apnea should try and cure, or improve their condition because it can have serious consequences such as cardiovascular disease, (sufferers are 30% more prone to heart attack), high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, clinical depression, and obesity.