At least 37 million adults snore on a regular basis, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But all snoring is not equal: Occasional snoring, due to congestion or a bad sleeping position, is a nuisance. Habitual snoring can disturb your sleep patterns and rob both you and your partner of needed rest.
Snoring to the extent that you stop breathing, as in the case of obstructive sleep apnea, is a serious health threat that puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
How sleep apnea affects your heart
Sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack or death by 30 percent over a four- to five-year period. As the upper airway collapses and oxygen is cut off from the lungs, the body triggers a fight-or-flight response, which decreases blood flow to the heart. Together these two actions raise blood pressure and, over time, wear out the heart.
According to new research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society, this risk may be greater in women. In the new study, the walls of the heart were enlarged in people who snored or had sleep apnea. Compared to non-snorers, women who snored had bigger changes in their hearts than men.
Other health risks and complications
Sleep apnea also increases your risk for more immediate problems:
- It can lead to sleep deprivation, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory loss and concentration problems, and depression.
- It can aggravate other chronic conditions, such as chronic pain, asthma, and restless legs syndrome.
- Driving or operating machinery when you have untreated sleep apnea can be especially dangerous.
The severity of your snoring problem can be determined through an overnight sleep study, where machines measure the oxygen saturation of your red blood cells. (Anything below 90 percent saturation is cause for concern.) Depending on the results of these tests, you may be diagnosed with sleep apnea or a similar condition, upper airway resistance syndrome.
If you’re unsure whether you or your loved one’s symptoms warrant immediate attention, then it is always best to see a doctor. The sooner sleep apnea is treated, the less likely you are to suffer health consequences later.