Snoring may seem harmless—an annoyance that gets in the way of undisrupted sleep—but it can indicate more serious health problems.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start frequently. The throat muscles relax and block airflow to the lungs. A pause in breathing each time the airway closes while sleeping—five to 30 times an hour or more—causes a person to wake up suddenly and gasp for air.
The most common condition associated with snoring is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If left untreated, OSA can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Central sleep apnea (CSA), which occurs when the brain fails to send signals to muscles that control breathing, is less common.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
- Loud snoring
- Sudden stopped breathing or gasping for air while sleeping
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleepiness
- Irritability or trouble paying attention while awake
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?
Overweight. Fat deposits around the upper airway restrict breathing.
Age. Occurs more frequently in older adults.
Gender. Men are up to three times more likely than women to have OSA.
Neck circumference. People with thicker necks may have narrower airways.
Narrowed airway. A narrow throat, enlarged tonsils and adenoids can block the airway.
Family history of OSA. You may be at an increased risk if a first-degree relative has OSA.
Smoking and substance use. Smokers are three times more likely to have OSA. Alcohol, sedatives and tranquilizers relax throat muscles, which may worsen OSA.
Preexisting medical conditions. High blood pressure, congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, asthma and other medical conditions can increase the risk for OSA.
Age. Occurs more frequently in middle-aged and older adults.
Gender. More common in men than in women.
Heart disease. Congestive heart failure increases the risk for CSA.
Stroke. A previous stroke increases the risk for CSA.
Narcotic medicines. Long-lasting opioid medicines increase the risk for CSA.
How does sleep apnea affect my heart?
Sleep apnea causes airflow to stop, which releases stress hormones that can lead to heart disease over time. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
People with sleep apnea are up to four times more likely to develop heart arrhythmias than people without this condition. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of heart failure by 140% and the risk of coronary heart disease by 30%.
Sleep apnea can also cause metabolic syndrome—high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar and increased waist circumference—linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
What other medical conditions can sleep apnea cause?
• Type 2 diabetes
• Liver problems
• Mental health issues
When should I see a doctor for sleep apnea?
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but you should make an appointment with your doctor for evaluation if you show signs of sleep apnea and have certain risk factors.
Your doctor will likely refer you to a sleep disorder center for further assessment either overnight at the center or through at-home testing.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Therapies. Standard treatment for moderate to severe OSA is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep.
Surgery. Surgical options can help clear or enlarge air passages.
Advanced technology. Inspire, an FDA-approved sleep apnea treatment, works from within the body with the click of a button. The device gets inserted with a minimally invasive, same-day outpatient procedure.
Lifestyle changes. Includes increased physical activity and limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Find care at Catholic Health
Catholic Health’s sleep medicine specialists offer care at our sleep center locations across Long Island. Find a sleep center near you.
Call (866) 891-4339 (866-891-4339) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.