Possible Causes: Sleeping on your back, extra bodyweight, alcohol in the evening, sedatives, sleep apnea
Everyone snores occasionally, especially after a couple of alcoholic drinks. Along with a little snoring is usually benign, although the person who’s sharing the bed might disagree.
But for the 22 million individuals the United States with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — an ailment linked to a variety of maladies, including metabolic syndrome — nighttime noise is really a signal worth heeding.
Snoring occurs when throat muscles relax while asleep and partially block the breath because it passes through the airway, causing noisy vibrations. This is why alcohol and sedatives can be a trigger; they cause muscles to slacken more than ever before. For people with OSA, the throat muscles relax so thoroughly the airway collapses, stopping the breath completely for approximately 10 seconds at a time.
As many as 95 percent of OSA sufferers snore, and also the volume increases as the condition worsens. Age plays a job, too: OSA affects roughly 5 percent of the general population and A quarter of those over 60.
“Males are more likely to have sleep apnea, particularly in young and middle age,” says Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern Medicine. “The rate is almost two to one. But when women hit menopause, their chance of OSA increases.”
Zee notes that sleep-apnea symptoms often appear differently in women, so they’re often misdiagnosed. The classic signs include snoring and daytime sleepiness, however for a woman with sleep apnea, snoring may not be so prominent. Instead, she’ll experience insomnia or difficulty staying asleep. “If a woman with these symptoms is already in menopause, her doctor might think her sleep troubles are associated with hormonal changes or just hot flashes,” says Zee.
If you suspect OSA, consult a healthcare practitioner. Many believe the condition is underdiagnosed. Left untreated, OSA can set the stage for a host of chronic conditions, including diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
What You Can Do: For snoring that’s not OSA-related, slimming down may reduce it. (Though not necessarily. Many snorers are slender and lots of heavier people don’t snore.) Avoiding alcohol and sedatives also helps. And if you sleep on your back, try switching to your side. This prevents gravity’s pull on the front of the throat.
For sleep apnea, the first-line treatment is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, a tool worn during sleep to keep air moving and prevent gaps in breathing. But compliance with this particular is sometimes challenging, notes Zee. Even when a CPAP machine does improve breathing, it might not foster optimal sleep for people who also struggle with insomnia.
“Treatment for sleep apnea should be multimodal,” says Zee, who recommends CPAP together with improving sleep hygiene — keeping electronics out of the bedroom and following a regular bedtime ritual, for instance. Other interventions, such as oral appliances fitted by a dentist, can be good options to CPAP for those who can’t tolerate it.