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What Causes SNORING: How To Tell If You Have A Sleep Disorder

Snoring can be a wake-up call about your health

Ever wondered why people snore? Snoring might be linked to an underlying sleep disorder.

Ever wondered what exactly causes snoring? Snoring is often dismissed as just an irritating habit. But it can be a sign of a sleep-disorder. These are much more common than you think. Sleep apnea occurs in about 25-percent of men and 10-percent of women. Sleep disorders can affect your mood, and even be bad for your heart health. So your snoring may be trying to warn you of problems going on underneath the surface.

Here’s what you need to know about snoring.

What causes bad snoring?

Physical causes airflow blocked by a crooked septal bone in the nose. Or a snorer may have inferior turbinates that are larger than usual. Inferior turbinates are structures on the sidewalls of the inner nose. Chronic rhinosinusitis, allergies and polyps in the nose can also cause snoring.

Other physical causes include a low-lying soft palate, a thick or short neck and a prolapsed tongue base. This is when the tongue falls back into the throat during sleep, and blocks the airway.

Drinking alcohol relaxes the throat and palate, which is one reason people tend to snore more after a few beers or glasses of wine. Extra fat around the beck and throat can also contribute to snoring, by pressing inward and narrowing the airways. This is why larger people tend to snore more.

Snoring can be obstructive sleep apnea

obstructive sleep apnea what causes snoring
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Up to 40-percent of snorers have “oxygen desaturations due to obstruction of the airways in sleep”, according to a study published by the Medical Clinics of North America. Also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Apnea is when the muscles around your throat temporarily relax, resulting in short periods when your breathing actually stops.

This lack of air wakes you up (usually with a start), and you start breathing again. Perhaps your sleeping partner has noticed a pattern of snoring that gets louder. Then there’s few seconds of silence… before there’s a loud splutter and the snoring starts again? That’s an obstructive sleep apnea pattern.

Side effects of sleep disorders

Obstructive sleep apnea reduces your sleep – after all, you are slightly waking up, when your breathing stops. You’re only waking for a few seconds, and you may not even remember it. But the on/off pattern still disrupts your sleep. This lack of deep sleep can leave you feeling tired and irritable during the day. It’s like being a zombie!

Snoring sleep disorders can also cause mild headaches and make it hard to concentrate. More dangerously, sleep apnea can stress your heart. Adults with obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

How to get an accurate diagnosis of sleep disorder

couple in hospital, being evaluated for sleep disorder
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To work out if you have a sleep disorder, doctors need to examine your ear, nose an throat system to identify any blockages. To work out if you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study. Monitors are painlessly stuck to your skin, to measure how often you wake up during the night, and how much your oxygen flow is reduced. Sleep studies can be done at home, but more complex cases need to be monitored overnight at a sleep clinic.

Treatments for snoring and sleep disorders

woman sleepign well in bed, with no sleep disorders or snoring
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For milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea, you can try reducing your snoring by changing sleep position, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and managing your weight.

For advanced cases of sleep disorders, the gold standard of treatment is a continuous positive airway mask, or CPAP mask. This mask fits over your nose and mouth and pumps air into your lungs, so you don’t have to keep waking up to breathe again. Some apnea patients report that the mask gives them the best sleep they’ve had in years. Others find it hard to tolerate the masks while they sleep.

Other treatments for sleep disorders include careful and targeted surgery to the problem area. For example the doctor may recommend surgery to widen the inner airways in the nose, strengthen the soft palate, or adjust the base of the tongue or jaw.

Originally by Lynne Lim, July 2017 / Last updated by Isabel Wibowo

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