Snoring: Not Necessarily Sleep Apnea

Constant snoring doesn’t mean sleep apnea, say experts

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant 

The ear-splitting, chainsaw-like sounds coming from the other side of your bed does not necessarily mean that your beloved has sleep apnea.

“The majority who have apnea snore, but the majority of those snoring do not have sleep apnea,” said Jonathan A. Marcus medical director of the UR Medicine Sleep Center and associate professor of clinical neurology and Medicine at University of Rochester.

About half the population snores sometimes. The phenomenon occurs during sleep when the muscles relax and the base of the tongue vibrates. With sleep apnea, the person’s airway becomes blocked and for 10 to 20 seconds, they do not get enough air. The individual may gasp and choke.

“The brain notes this and wakes the body up,” Marcus said. “You can get to the morning and feel exhausted.”

During deep sleep, apnea is worse, as the muscles relax even more. With snoring, it is usually just the non-snorer whose sleep is disrupted. Sleep apnea fragments sleep—making the person feel lest rested. Quality of life is typically why patients seek treatment for sleep apnea. But sleep apnea can contribute to an increased risk for many health conditions.

Soda Kuczkowski is a sleep health educator and owner of Start with Sleep in Buffalo.

Soda Kuczkowski, sleep health educator and owner of Start with Sleep in Buffalo, listed weight gain, memory loss, and tied to a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes and certain cancers among the increased risks associated with untreated sleep apnea.

Risk factors for developing sleep apnea include being overweight or obese, large neck size, age, male or menopausal, having high blood pressure, a family history of sleep apnea, diabetes, being a member of minority, or being a veteran.

“Veterans are four times more likely than other Americans to suffer from sleep apnea,” Kuczkowski said.

The disruption in breathing deprives the brain and the rest of the body of sufficient oxygen. The condition has four types: obstructive, central, complex and positional.

Obstructive “involves a decrease or complete stop in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe,” Kuczkowski said. “It occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway.”

Central sleep apnea involves the brain not sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Kuczkowski said that this breathing disorder involves problems in the brain or heart, not a blockage.

Complex sleep apnea is a mixture of obstructive and central apnea. Positional sleep apnea is as its name denotes: sleep apnea involving body position during sleep.

Easy, home remedy interventions for snoring include a nose dilator, eucalyptus essential oils, side sleeping, using a humidifier, proper hydration, limiting alcohol and maintaining proper weight. Sleep apnea requires professional treatment. Typically, insurance coverage permits patients to self-refer to a sleep specialist. Most people can have a sleep study performed at home. However, some do need to stay overnight at a sleep center.

“There’s often hesitation from the community about the idea of doing sleep testing,” Marcus said. “They’re familiar with sleep testing done in a facility, but not at home.”

Many patients also assume that treatment with a cumbersome CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure device, but Marcus said that newer therapies like dental devices and Inspire, an implantable device, can make treatment easier.