Is your snoring a sign of sleep apnea or something else?

 Stressed young woman covering her ears because her husband is snoring

Is your snoring a sign of sleep apnea or something else?

If you’ve been told you snore, don’t necessarily assume you have sleep apnea.  Even though up to 12 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) - according to the National Institutes of Health - around 45 million suffer from snoring, known as primary snorers, unrelated to the condition.

It is not unusual for someone with primary snoring to be treated for OSA, even though the two conditions are different.  Understanding the difference between OSA and normal snoring is the first step to effective treatment for both conditions.  So, if you are getting nudged at night by your partner for snoring, figuring out what your snoring is caused by and how to silence it can result in a good night’s sleep for both of you.

What is the difference between regular snoring and OSA?

Snoring happens as a result of tissues in the back of the throat relaxing enough allowing them to partially block the airway causing vibration which creates the snoring sound.  Depending on a person’s size and other factors such as alcohol consumption and body weight, the sound of the vibration can be very loud or soft. 

One way to distinguish OSA from primary snoring is by the following characterizations of OSA:

·      Frequent, loud snoring

·      Stops breathing for a few seconds or as long as a minute

·      Gasps or chokes during sleep

·      Experiences excessive restlessness at night

·      Has daytime sleepiness

Anyone who is exhibiting the above symptoms needs to be evaluated by their primary care physician who can refer you on to a sleep specialist.  This is a first step in getting tested to prevent an inaccurate self-diagnosis, inadequate treatment, or believing it is an insignificant problem. It is important to know that OSA has been linked with higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues. 

If a person snores during the night but is not exhibiting the above symptoms, they most likely do not have OSA.  Primary snoring differs from OSA in the following ways:

·      Their bed partner will complain of the snoring

·      No evidence of insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness due to the snoring

·      Dryness of the mouth upon awakening

How to treat primary snoring

Once you know you do not have OSA yet still snore, how can this be treated?  You, as a snorer, are not having the symptoms of OSA and may not consider it a problem.  However, your bed partner can be the one suffering more as they will have difficulty in getting to sleep or may be interrupted from sleep during the night due to your snoring.  Relationships can severely suffer if they are irritated about being kept awake or have to sleep in a different room.   

Fortunately, there are several bedtime remedies to help you stop snoring.  Most of them are based on behavioral and lifestyle changes that can make a difference in reducing snoring helping your partner get the sleep they need:

·      Change your sleeping position.  Elevate your head by four inches to ease breathing and to allow your tongue and jaw to move forward.  Pillows specifically designed to help prevent snoring are available to ensure neck muscles are not crimpled.

·      Sleep on your side instead of your back.  Here’s a trick to try to – attach a tennis ball to the back of a pajama top or T-shirt.  When you roll onto your back, the discomfort of the tennis ball reminds you to turn back onto your side.

·      Use an anti-snoring mouth appliance.  Resembling an athlete’s mouth guard, these devices help open your airway by bringing your lower jaw and/or your tongue forward during sleep. 

·      Clear nasal passages.  Using a neti pot, nasal decongestant, or nasal strips can not only clear a stuffy nose but also help you breathe more easily while sleeping. Also reduce dust mites and pet dander from your bedroom if you have allergies. 

·      Keep bedroom air moist.  Dry air can irritate membranes in the nose and throat – keep a humidifier nearby to help.

·      Lose weight.  Even a small weight loss can reduce fatty tissue in the back of the throat and reduce or even stop snoring.

·      Quit smoking.  Smoking can increase snoring.  It irritates the membranes in the nose and throat which can block airways causing snoring. 

·      Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives.  All of these can relax the muscles in the throat interfering with breathing.

·      Avoid certain foods before bed.  Research has shown that eating large meals or eating certain foods such as dairy or soymilk right before bed can make snoring worse.