About 40% of Americans over 40 suffer from snoring activity during sleep. While half of these people are just snorers, the other half may have a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Sleep Apnea and snoring are often inaccurately used interchangeably and may be incorrectly treated as a result. While OSA will almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always indicate OSA.
Understanding the differences between sleep apnea and snoring is the first step to effective treatment of both conditions. For all the people across the country who are getting nudged or elbowed throughout the night from frustrated bed partners, it’s important to know what their snoring means, and how they can silence it.
Not everyone who has sleep apnea necessarily snores, but most people do. While snoring from time to time is pretty common for adults and not usually harmful, excessive and very loud snoring that interrupts normal sleep and your quality of life is a serious problem. How can you tell the difference between sleep apnea and snoring?
First and foremost, your spouse or partner (or anyone else who sleeps in close proximity to you) might be able to help clue you in on your own sleeping habits. Do they notice you snoring loud enough that it wakes them up repeatedly and disturbs their sleep quality too? Do they report that you’re stopping and starting breathing, waking up startled or gasping for air? If you’re struggling with sleep apnea, your snoring might take on other forms that aren’t normal, including strong gasping, shaking and choking sounds that wake you up suddenly. If no one sleeps close enough to you to report symptoms, try using a tape recorder to track your own breathing sounds while you’re sleeping.
Normal snoring also doesn’t tend to make people tired, distracted and irritable during the day because it doesn’t usually impair sleep quality. Chronic fatigue is one of the biggest signs of poor sleep quality due to sleep disturbances like sleep apnea. If you notice changes in your concentration, mood, memory, weight, appetite and personality (for example, you’re dosing off when watching TV, having trouble completing tasks at work and getting angry with people more easily), then you might have sleep apnea.
If a family member notices you having any of the hallmark sleep apnea symptoms described above or you find yourself feeling overly drowsy and cranky during the day, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor to talk about whether or not your snoring might be a bigger medical problem. Visiting a sleep clinic is another option, where a professional can track your symptoms and investigate a potential cause.