Snoring Science: When To See Your Doctor

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2016)

snoringSnoring! Outside the bedroom, it’s a joke. But within your sleeping quarters, it’s a deadly serious problem. This is the first of a two-part blog, describing the science of snoring, and the warning signs that should send you to your doctor. The second part tells how to treat and cure snoring with the treatment or treatments that are best for you.

How serious is snoring? If you’re a snorer, neither you nor your partner is getting good sleep. That can lead to separate beds, separate bedrooms and sometimes, separate households. Even if you’re the only person in the bedroom, snoring is dangerous to your health. It is accompanied by poorer air flow and disrupted sleep, which in turn make you more susceptible to daytime drowsiness, irritability, decreased libido and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

How common are snoring problems? Estimates vary, but it’s easy to find statements that 50% of adult men and 25% of adult women snore. For people over 40, the numbers jump to 60% of men and 40% of women.

Think of that! A simple calculation shows that for a forty-plus couple, there’s a 76% chance that someone in the couple snores.

Snoring is a key reason that many couples to sleep apart – 30% to 40% in one well-known study – which has led to the descriptive term “sleep divorce.” Moreover, the number of people who want to sleep apart from their partner is much higher than this. An online survey found that 60% of people want solo sleeping arrangements. Because respondents were promised anonymity, they were probably more willing to answer honestly.

Whether you know it or not, it is virtually certain that either you snore, or your bed partner snores, or someone close to you snores. And that can seriously disrupt both health and relationships.

The rest of this blog draws from snoring research, a bit of analysis and my own experience as an experienced award-winning (mostly) former snorer.

Science of Snoring

There are as many cures for snoring as there are for the hiccups or for losing weight. For example, if you search “snore” on amazon.com you are offered 774 products! The sheer glut of choices is a tip-off that the science of snores is partly an art and partly black magic.

Let’s cut through the clutter, though. There is fundamentally only one cause of snoring:

…the vibration of respiratory structures and the resulting sound due to obstructed air movement during breathing while sleeping.

In other words, anything that obstructs your breathing while you’re asleep will cause your airway to vibrate, and the sound of those vibrations is what we call snoring.

Air blockage can occur anywhere between your nose and mouth and your lungs; for that matter, obstructed breathing can even be caused by malfunctions in the body’s feedback systems. However, we don’t have to deal with every part of the body to cure snoring. We can address most, perhaps ninety percent of snoring, by focusing on the two places where most snores originate: the nose and the back of the throat. The second installment of this blog will describe the available cures for both nose snoring and throat snoring.

Full Employment For Your Physician

Before trying to treat and cure snoring, you should protect yourself from missteps, as well as assure your family doctor’s continued employment.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that you see your physician if you experience (or your sleeping partner observes), symptoms like these:
– Snoring loud enough to disturb your sleep or that of others
– Shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep
– Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
– Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you’re working, watching television or even driving a vehicle

Your doctor should then ask questions to see whether you may have a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA blocks breathing and starves your body for oxygen; this places strain on your heart and body, and may damage your brain. It can literally kill you.

OSA is not a rare condition: a respected study (Abstract; Full Text) states:

…we estimate that roughly 1 of every 5 adults has at least mild OSA and 1 of every 15 has at least moderate OSA.

These probabilities increase if you are overweight, have chronic nasal congestion, have diabetes, smoke, or drink alcohol. Being male also raises your risk.

It is estimated that 90% of sleep apnea goes undiagnosed and untreated, because only 10% of primary physicians routinely ask their patients questions about sleep.

What if you don’t have a bed partner to give you feedback on your sleep behavior? A smartphone app may soon be available to help you self-diagnose. However, at this time, OSA still requires diagnosis and treatment by medical professionals. Therefore, if you have the Mayo Clinic symptoms listed above, get thee to thy physician!

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, which addresses the cures that can give you quiet, restful sleep.

Snoring is a frustrating problem, for sure. Have you screened yourself (or a family member) for serious health symptoms? If so, you are ready to look at snoring cures in the next blog.

Image Credit: “Blob sleeping” by svk-ab on openclipart.org

Comments

Snoring Science: When To See Your Doctor — 8 Comments

  1. A triple by pass & mitral valve ring cured my snoring.
    Only cost the VA around $200,000.00

  2. Hi Art:
    Good you mention this. People don’t take this seriously and make jokes about the “snorer.” I come from a family where both paternal and maternal sides are rife with sleep apnea. I have sleep apnea. I would urge people who have sleep apnea to use the C-PAP equipment It really does improve the quality of life when one gets a good night’s sleep.
    There is a very noticeable difference in the wellbeing in my family members. One can tell who does use it and who does not.
    I am hoping that maybe better treatments will eventually emerge, but meantime, there is hope.

    • Hi Tobyann,

      As I will discuss next week, CPAP is a very effective treatment – I would not call it a “cure” – but intolerable for many users. I used it for two years long ago and found it too drying, so I am one of the 50% of patients who cannot or will not use it. However, it was a life saver for one of the Hughes executives I knew.

      I recently met a woman whose husband, after finding CPAP no good for him, found BiPAP to be acceptable. Any of your relatives who need CPAP and can’t stand it might consider BiPAP – or a combination of the other cures I will discuss in the next installment. Insurers are more reluctant to cover BiPAP, I am told, but otherwise it is a more pleasant experience for the user.

      You are exactly right that apnea is serious and should not be ignored. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

      Art

      • Hi!
        My C-Pap has a humidifier which uses distilled water. Otherwise, my nasal membranes dry out and I get bloody noses. The humidifier seems to be taking care of the problem. Humidifier uses distilled water.

        I know my pulmonary guy at UCLA monitors some research in the area.

        It is a serious situation. One of my innumerable cousins died as a result of a severe condition.

        Hope you are well. Sorry, I couldn’t get to your book signing in Malibu. Aunt in Chicago passed away. She was 99 and the last of her generation.

        Hope 2016 is a healthy, happy year for you and Nola and Family.

        Toby

        • Thanks, Toby, and a wonderful 2016 to you too!
          I agree that the humidifier is a highly desirable add-on for CPAP machines. I remember that it helped me, and no doubt humidifier designs have greatly improved through the years. Judging by the detailed advice that’s given (http://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/after-the-diagnosis/the-importance-of-cpap-humidification.html), this is an area of considerable concern and attention. The important thing is that you’ve found a combination that works for you! Warm winter wishes… Art

          • Thank you for the article, Art. I was told some of this verbally, but had not seen such a straightforward article. I have what is called medically induced Sjogren’s [don’t produce mucous and have dry eye, dry mouth], so I use the cushioned cannula not a mask, but the humidity is essential. I did tell my brother about using a humidifier and he now does. It is sort of funny. My family is loaded with all sorts of health care professionals: doctors [many with advanced academic degrees], nurses, pharmacists, etc., but it is an unspoken pact that no one discusses “organs” at get-togethers. It wasn’t actually until I was diagnosed that the word leaked out. I have a large extended family, and even some of the MD’s didn’t realize they had sleep apnea. I am sure my father must have had it because when he snored it sounded like “liftoff” at Cape Canaveral.
            Back to the mines [I am trying to retire, but still have some clients].

            Best regards! Toby