Imagine (or recall, depending on your situation) being in the middle of a pleasant dream, only to be jarred awake by the throaty rumble of your partner’s snoring. This is the reality for countless couples across Australia, and aside from its tendency to cause relationship disturbance, snoring can be a signal of underlying health problems. But since many people think it’s a benign condition, they’re unlikely to see their doctor about it. Here’s what causes snoring and when you should seek medical intervention.
When you sleep, your throat narrows and your tongue falls backward. The walls of your throat vibrate as your breathe in and out, and for certain people—often those who are overweight, and mostly men, though snoring affects every population group to some degree—the vibrations are loud enough to wake up a sleeping partner. Generally, the narrower the opening in your upper airway, the louder the vibration.
Snoring is usually caused by the interaction of a variety of factors. Some people are just anatomically predisposed to snore. They may have larger tongues, thicker necks, or weaker nerves controlling the tongue. Snorers could also have an anatomical abnormality, like enlarged adenoids or tonsils or a deviated septum. Allergies or an illness leading to respiratory inflammation could also narrow the airway and lead to snoring. Muscle relaxants taken before bed, including alcohol, can also be a factor.
Perhaps the most insidious cause is a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea. This condition occurs when an airway collapses or becomes blocked while you sleep, leading to breathing pauses and loud snoring. A person with sleep apnea will typically be forced out of deep sleep into light sleep to gasp for breath throughout the night. About one in three men and one in five women who snore regularly also have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is dangerous. Breathing pauses interrupt your sleep, leaving you chronically deprived of deep sleep even if you think you’ve slept through the night, with all the accompanying symptoms of sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea is also dangerous for your heart, increasing your risk of irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and other serious conditions.
Don’t worry—sleep apnea is very treatable, but the first step is to be examined by a doctor. A little mild snoring now and again may be nothing to worry about, but regular, loud snoring is a good reason to get properly examined. Your healthcare professional will consider your age, lifestyle habits, and other factors and come up with a suitable treatment plan. Do it for your health, and the health of your relationship!