We have all probably watched at a sitcom featuring an angry, sleep-deprived wife annoyed by her snoring bed partner. Or maybe you have laughed at a story about coping with a relative’s infamous sleeping habit during the holidays. While snoring is often seen as comical, it can actually be an indication of a serious sleeping problem: sleep apnea.
So is snoring always a sign of sleep apnea? Occasional snoring may not be an indication of a sleep serious problem, rather just a nuisance to your spouse. However, habitual, heavy snoring is most likely a sign of sleep apnea or a similar sleep problem.
UAMS pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist Dr. Raghu Reddy explains that there are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type that causes the sleeper to go through a number of involuntary breathing pauses — maybe as many as 20 to 30 each hour of sleep. During these pauses, the sleeper is not breathing. This is caused by collapsed tissue around the neck or a naturally small airway.
When these pauses occur, “air doesn’t get in and out of your lungs, and that means that you are not breathing and you’re not getting enough oxygen to your tissues,” Dr. Reddy says. “That can damage a lot of organs in your body, including your heart and your brain. This can also make other things worse like diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Sleep apnea not only affects the body internally, it wreaks havoc on daily daytime functions. “Patients with sleep problems and especially with obstructive sleep apnea have very poor quality of life because they don’t get good quality sleep or enough sleep at night,” Dr. Reddy says. “So daytime functioning suffers. They can’t work properly. When we treat the sleep apnea, their quality of life dramatically improves.”
Dr. Reddy, director of UAMS’ Sleep Medicine Clinic, says that he recommends patients with sleep apnea to first lose weight, try sleeping on their sides and to stay away from alcohol and sedatives in excess. He also cautions that if patients get really sleep during the day, to take precautions when driving and working with machinery.