You probably do not need anyone to tell you that snoring is a loud, harsh, or hoarse sound that often occurs during sleep. Nearly everyone has heard someone snore. However, most are unaware that it is so much more than just an inconvenient (and often obnoxious) noise that keeps people awake. Like an onion, snoring has many layers. As you peel the layers away, you understand what a monumental effect those sounds have on your overall health.
What is Snoring?
Snoring is the noise resulted from respiratory structures vibrating against one another. It occurs when the tongue, uvula, soft palate, and throat muscles cause an obstruction, and then rub against each other as air is pushed through for a normal breath.
When you fall asleep, every muscle in your body relaxes. This includes those in your mouth and throat. So, your tongue and soft palate fall back towards your throat. Tissues that are permitted to touch during the sleep stage do not touch while you are awake, which is why you don’t walk around snoring all day.
Snoring is a symptom of a variety of sleep disorders and other medical issues, but it can also contribute to conditions, as well. Snoring is never just a noise. Approximately 45 percent of adults snore occasionally, and it is suggested that chronic snoring occurs in 20 percent of all adults. So, if you have ever felt like you are the only person dealing with this sleep-disordered breathing, rest-assured that you are not alone.
Snoring occurs as a result of obstructed airflow, but there is a long list of reasons why this happens, including:
- Poor Muscle Tone: Muscles in the tongue and throat are not strong enough to stop the tissues from collapsing in the airway. Normal aging is often to blame because these muscles tend to relax as you get older. Alcohol consumption, drugs, and sedatives can temporarily or permanently cause this, too. For example, antihistamines you reach for when your allergies are acting up naturally relax these muscles, which could cause you to snore temporarily.
- Large Uvula and/or Soft Palate: In most cases the uvula is the culprit between these two. The uvula is the tissue that extends from the back of your throat. If the tissue is longer than average it narrows the opening from the throat to the nose and bumps against other tissues, when you are in a relaxed state.
- Bulky Throat Tissue: If you are overweight, you likely have excess tissue in your neck and throat that narrows the airway.
- Large Adenoids and/or Tonsils: The adenoids and/or tonsils can vibrate against tissues, if they are larger than normal.
- Obstructed Nasal Airways: A deviated septum, nasal polyps, or some other type of nose structural problem can cause snoring. Obstructed nasal passages can also be caused by a cold, sinus infection, or allergies.
Signs You Are Snoring
Some people do not know they snore. Whether you are single or you just have a partner who is either a very deep sleeper or too nice to tell you, you may be wondering if you are snoring based on other signs, such as:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Decreased productivity
- Diminished mental and physical health
- Slowed reaction time
- Unexplained weight gain
- Strained relationship
- Partner sleeping in separate room
- Sore throat and/or dry mouth
Who’s at Risk?
Anyone can snore, and snoring can develop at any age. It is hard to label who is most at risk because there are so many determining factors. However, it is common for snorers to suffer from other sleep-related disorders, such as teeth grinding and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Being overweight increases your risk of snoring significantly. Genetics can play a role, if you have inherited a narrow throat of enlarged uvula or tonsils.
Pregnancy makes you prone to temporary snoring, and as mentioned, aging is a factor, as well. If you smoke, drink alcohol, or take certain recreational, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs, you are also at greater risk.
What many do not realize is that snoring robs you of quality sleep. When you begin your sleep cycle, you are in a light sleep stage known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows. During the deeper stage of NREM, your body regrows and repairs tissues, strengthens the immune system, and builds muscle and bone.
About 90 minutes after you officially fall asleep, you enter your first stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Your brain is active, you have dreams, and you burn more calories. REM deprivation is associated with anxiety, irritability, aggression, increased appetite, and depression. REM is considered the most crucial stage of sleep.
However, if you snore, there is little chance you are making it to the REM stage. Not only that, you are getting interrupted constantly in NREM, so your body can’t do the repairing and recharging it needs to during deeper NREM stages. If your airway is blocked, your body is working harder all night just to push air through for normal organ function.
Snoring diminishes quality sleep and affects your health in ways you may never fully comprehend. A few health risks include:
- High Blood Pressure: Blood oxygen levels are affected, when airflow isn’t adequate, which puts a huge strain on the entire cardiovascular system. Regardless if you have high blood pressure, or not, you increase your risk for congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart disease, stroke, and other vascular diseases.
- Obesity: When you wake up tired, you are more likely to eat high-calorie foods for a burst of energy. Of course, the more weight you gain the more pressure that gets applied to your airway, thereby worsening snoring and making it even harder to reach the essential deep sleep stages.
- GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease is quite common in chronic snorers, due to the disordered way the throat closes while the body is trying to move air in and out. Pressure changes can suck stomach contents up toward the esophagus.
- Daytime Sleepiness: Being tired during the day doesn’t just increase your risk of obesity; it slows your reaction time and can make you more vulnerable to falls, car accidents, and other injuries.
- Headache: Chronic headaches may not seem like a serious health risk, but they can certainly diminish your overall quality of life.
- Mental Health: Lack of sleep makes you more irritable and anxious. You may not be able to handle stress effectively and you are more prone to depression.
If you snore, or you have a loved one who does, it is important that steps are taken to address this disorder. It is not just a loud noise. Snoring does affect your health in a variety of ways and should not be ignored or dismissed another day.