Is Snoring Bad for Your Health?

It’s usually harmless but can be a sign of sleep apnea

A young woman covers her ears with her pillow as she looks at her significant other snore as he sleeps. San Diego Health Magazine

It’s usually harmless but can be a sign of sleep apnea

Do you ever get a full eight hours of sleep yet wake up feeling exhausted? Or does your bedmate nudge you every night, telling you to roll onto your side? If so, you might be a snorer. 

While some snoring is simply a nuisance, it can also be a sign of something more serious. It’s important to your health — and the health of your relationship — to know the difference and do something about it. 

Here, Derek Loewy, PhD, insomnia program director at the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center, shares how to tell if your snoring is more than just noise. 

“Snoring is an indication that there’s something in the airway that is in the way of the airflow,” explain Dr. Loewy, a clinical psychologist and sleep medicine specialist. “For people with what we call primary snoring, there’s simply a vibration of the tissue and the air is still moving in and out. If there are no other complications, that’s not a clinical problem for the patient, per se. However, it can be a problem for their bed partner.” 

How to reduce snoring

While primary snoring may not be a medical condition requiring treatment, there are ways to reduce the frequency and loudness. 

“Snoring is almost always worse when we’re sleeping on our back because gravity is making the tongue or uvula block the airway,” Dr. Loewy says. “In this case, the simple remedy is sleeping on your side. If that’s hard to do naturally, there are tools you can buy to help.” 

Other things that increase the likelihood of snoring are excess weight, which can enlarge neck circumference and impact the airway, and alcohol consumption, which relaxes the muscles that keep the airway open. 

To reduce these risks, Dr. Loewy suggests maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcohol intake, particularly within three hours of bedtime. If these steps don’t help, there are over-the-counter devices that may help, ranging from mouth guards to nose strips. These adjust jaw position to keep the airway unobstructed or open nasal passages. 

Could it be sleep apnea?

For a growing number of people, however, snoring can be an indication of something much more serious: sleep apnea. It is a condition in which airway obstruction causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start.

Sleep apnea leaves people feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep. Worse, it has been linked to serious medical conditions if left untreated. 

“There are short- and long-term consequences of sleep apnea. First, the blood oxygen drops throughout the night, which makes for a very sleepy brain in the morning. The fragmented sleep that comes along with it leaves you feeling tired and unrestored. You can get a fair amount of sleep yet never feel rested,” Dr. Loewy explains. 

Treatment for sleep apnea

Untreated sleep apnea increases a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. “It’s like running a marathon in your sleep every night,” Dr. Loewy says. “It also can lead to cognitive problems that affect concentration and increases risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome.” 

If you or your partner notices that your sleep is disrupted by frequent gasping for air, a sleep study can help diagnose sleep apnea. Treatment includes the use of a CPAP machine to keep air flowing or a new procedure called Inspire, an outpatient surgical alternative to the CPAP. 

San Diego Health Magazine Winter 2023 Cover

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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