What Sleep Doctors Wish You Knew About Snoring
Here’s how to know the difference between benign snoring and deadly sleep apnea — and how to manage both.
Snoring affects the roadways
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 accidents and hundreds of deaths in 2013—all of which might have been preventable, according to Ronald L. Rosenthal, DDS, FAGD. He tells Reader’s Digest, “Snoring is a cardinal sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Eight hundred Americans die in drowsy driving accidents yearly due to OSA.” This sleep disorder means that the airways collapse and block breathing; sufferers will snore loudly and actually stop breathing several times a night. They never reach deep sleep and feel constantly tired. Even worse, they’re at much higher risk for weight gain, heart disease, and other chronic disorders. Find out the best tips for staying awake when you’re exhausted.
All ages are at risk
Though you might imagine snoring to be an older person’s problem, the truth is that all ages are at risk for sleep apnea. Joseph Krainin, MD, FAASM, Chief Medical Advisor for SoClean (a company that sanitizes sleep apnea devices), and founder of Singular Sleep, believes we all need to be aware of the risks we face at every age. “Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age level or body weight, and you should get tested if you experience any symptoms related to sleep apnea. Not only does sleep apnea reduce your quality of life, it can cause or worsen many medical problems.” Here are 13 strange things that might be wrecking your sleep.
Sleep apnea might be the cause of your depression
Your sleep habits could be contributing to mental illnesses, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sleep apnea was linked to symptoms of major depression. “Snorting, gasping, or stopping breathing while asleep was associated with nearly all depression symptoms, including feeling hopeless and feeling like a failure,” Anne G. Wheaton, PhD, told the National Sleep Foundation. Check out the 10 things your sleeping habits are trying to tell you.
No snoring doesn’t mean you’re in the clear
Although loud snores are a symptom of sleep apnea, a silent night doesn’t mean you don’t have it, says W. Chris Winter, MD, neurologist, sleep specialist, and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It. “Just because you don’t snore does not mean you do not have sleep apnea. If you are tired and sleep poorly, insist on a sleep study, even if you don’t look like a typical sleep apnea patient,” recommends Dr. Winter.
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Snoring affects your heart health
While you sleep, your body undergoes restorative processes that affect your entire body—including your heart. Ellen Wermter, NP, practicing at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, advises patients not to forget how sleep—or the lack of it—affects their heart. “Studies show that snoring can alter the inner lining in the carotid arteries, making them more apt to develop atherosclerotic lesions and increasing the risk of stroke,” she tells Reader’s Digest. Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about heart health.
Sleep aids and alcohol make snoring worse
If you’re thinking of taking medication or having a drink to help you fall asleep…don’t. Sleep aids often have the reverse effect on those with sleep disorders, says Dr. Wermter. “Don’t drink alcohol within three to four hours of bedtime or take sedatives or hypnotics, as these further slacken upper airway structures and harm sleep quality. Sleep aids (such as over-the-counter drugs with PM in the label) also have sedative effects and can exacerbate snoring. You’re best off avoiding using these.”
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Hydration is key
You know that staying hydrated is important, but you may not realize it will help you sleep. (For an alternative to water, try these 4 super hydrating drinks.) Make sure you’re hydrating properly, or you might make the problem worse, according to Dr. Wermter. She advises, “Stay hydrated—thick mucus worsens snoring. Don’t drink large quantities too close to bedtime though, and avoid caffeinated beverages later in the day, as they contribute to wakefulness and also have a diuretic effect.”
Know your risk factors
The risk tends to climb if you’re overweight, if your blood pressure is high, and with age, explains Sara Nowakowski, PhD, MS, clinical psychologist, sleep expert, and assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Approximately 20 percent of adults snore and 60 percent of men over the age of 40 snore regularly. While not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, snoring is a warning sign that should be taken seriously. Other signs to look out for are daytime sleepiness, excess body weight, and a diagnosis of high blood pressure (about one in three individuals with high blood pressure also has sleep apnea).” These sleep products might help you catch some ZZZs.
Snoring can cause premature death
Snoring isn’t only annoying for your partner—it can be life-threatening, Dr. Nowakowski warns. “People whose snoring is caused by sleep apnea have a 40 percent greater chance of premature death. Thus, it is important to report snoring and other possible sleep apnea symptoms to your physician. A sleep study to further evaluate sleep apnea may be recommended. It is important to follow through and seek treatment if warranted.” Find out the truth about why men sleep better than women.
Snoring is the result of weak muscles
Steven Olmos, DDS, founder of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre International, explains, “As we get older, our muscles lose tone, including the muscles of our throat (airway). The incidence of breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), upper airway resistance, and snoring increases with age.”
To keep your muscles strong, try this resistance band workout to increase your intensity and strength.
Your pillow is not the problem
When you sleep poorly, you tend to blame everything but the actual culprit, Dr. Olmos tells Reader’s Digest. “Disturbances of sleep result in fatigue, anxiety, and facial pain upon awakening. We chalk this up to our beds, our pillows, stress, or just old age. The thing is, a person with a sleep-breathing problem has likely had it all their life—it is just getting worse with age. It is possible to improve sleep and breathing as you age. I sleep better at 62 than when I was 30 because my sleep-breathing problem is being treated.” Find out if one of these culprits is to blame for your sleeplessness.
Sleep apnea can hurt your teeth
All that snoring can lead to grinding, according to Gene Sambataro, DDS, author of the book Stop the Snore: Dental Solutions for Healthy Sleep. He explains, “Sleep apnea sufferers may awake with sensitive teeth or tight jaw muscles. It happens because the breathing airway is obstructed. The National Sleep Foundation found that about one in four people with obstructive sleep apnea grinds their teeth at night.” Here’s what a psychologist suggests you do to solve your sleep problems.
Snoring can ruin your day
“If your spouse is snoring and you can no longer get the sleep you need, if you’re falling asleep at the wheel, if you’re dragging yourself through the day, then your health may be compromised by a sleeping disorder,” Dr. Sambataro says. “And that’s something that’s going to have long-term consequences if not addressed soon.” (This espresso shake is worth a shot if you’re getting behind the wheel.)
It’s a dental issue
While your first instinct might be to call your primary care physician to handle any breathing problems, that may not be the best first step, says Dr. Rosenthal. “Since the tongue and jaws fall under the domain of dentistry, obstructive sleep apnea can be treated by dentists. Oral appliances for OSA are now considered as good as CPAP [a machine for sleep apnea that creates Continuous Positive Air Pressure] in the treatment of mild to moderate OSA. Oral appliances are an acceptable treatment of severe OSA in patients who can not tolerate CPAP,” he explains.
If you’re suffering from a common dental emergency, here are 6 quick fixes to help you deal.
You could try an app
Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach, says that using technology can provide more information than simply relying on what others say about your sleep. He explains, “While you can have your partner listen for symptoms, I suggest you download the Sleep Cycle app. This app, which tracks your sleep and helps ease you awake, also listens for your snoring. It will tell you how much you snored during the night, as well as record snippets of your snoring. This can be a good way to get a realistic picture of what your snoring is like.”
Treatment is available and often simple
“There are several treatment options available for snoring,” explains Neil Kline, DO, DABSM, spokesperson for the American Sleep Association. “For some, lifestyle modifications like weight loss, position change, and avoiding alcohol might help. For others, snoring mouthpieces can be very effective. Another option is upper airway surgery for snoring.” Consider these natural home remedies for snoring.
Originally published as 16 Things Sleep Doctors Wish You Knew About Snoring on ReadersDigest.com.