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National Sleep Foundation

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the repeated temporary interruption of breathing during sleep and one symptom of this condition is snoring. In fact the snoring caused by this condition is usually very loud and has been described as raucous!

In sleep apnea breathing stops for 10 seconds or more at least five times every hour which can lead to there being low oxygen levels in the body which in turn leads to many more serious health conditions.

Sleep apnea more commonly occurs in those who are overweight or who drink alcohol or smoke. Interestingly, it has also been found to occur more frequently in those who reside at high altitudes.

There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common one is called obstructive sleep apnea and occurs owing to a blockage in the airway. The second type of sleep apnea called central sleep apnea is a very rare condition caused by a problem in the nerves that control the breathing mechanism.

Obstructive sleep apnea is thought to mainly affect men between the ages of 40 and 60 and it is said to occur when the nasal passages and the upper airways become obstructed during sleep. Usually this obstruction is caused by the soft tissue of the throat (the pharynx) simply relaxing during sleep. This obstruction prevents breathing until the levels of oxygen in the blood fall to such a low level that the sufferer wakens and responds by taking a deep breath - accompanied by snorting, rasping and other noises associated with snoring.

Carrying excess weight around the area of the neck makes the condition much worse as can having a large tongue or small mouth (comparative to each other).

In children the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

In central sleep apnea the nerves that usually automatically regulate breathing do not work properly and this leads to impaired breathing. Central sleep apnea often follows a brain injury or stroke.

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea often develop slowly over time and are usually first noticed by a partner because of the very loud snoring. Other tell-tale signs are:

waking up tired
daytime sleepiness
poor memory
impaired concentration
headaches, particularly in the morning
impotence in men
frequent need for night time urination.

If sleep apnea is left untreated it can lead to problems with irregular heartbeat or arrhythmias; pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the blood vessels serving the lungs) and also an increased risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension).

Severe sleep apnea can eventually become life threatening.

Whilst people may be reluctant to seek medical help for snoring it is important to recognise that it is often a symptom of what could be a more serious underlying health condition - such as sleep apnea. Snoring can be a symptom of a health condition that is life threatening, as well as being something that can destroy relationships. Have it checked out and see if the quality of your sleep cannot be improved.

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