Doesn't Everyone Snore?

One of the first questions that many of my patient's ask me is, "Doesn't everyone snore?" The answer to this question is "No, only about 40% of the adult population snores”. But I don't think that's what they are really getting at. What they are really asking is, "Why should I be concerned about my snoring, isn’t it normal?" The answer to this question is much more complex.

In some patients, snoring can be normal. This is referred to as "Primary Snoring," and other than being bothersome to your sleep partner, it is probably safe (although a recent article published November 2008 in the journal "Chest" found that snoring alone can be an independent risk factor for daytime sleepiness and previous studies have suggested a weak association between nonapneic snoring and high blood pressure). However, patients with snoring are four times more likely to have sleep apnea, and it has been suggested that up to 30% of patients with snoring have sleep apnea. So the question ought to be “Does my snoring indicate that I have sleep apnea and if so, is sleep apnea serious?”

The answers are “maybe” and “yes” (but don’t be alarmed: sleep apnea is highly treatable). To determine whether your snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it is necessary to undergo a sleep study, during which nighttime breathing patterns are monitored and assessed. If the test concludes that you do have sleep apnea, your sleep physician will discuss treatment options with you. Left untreated sleep apnea can often lead to physiological and social problems, which can best be understood through an explanation of the sleep apnea process.

In essence, sleep apnea is when the airway collapses at night. In general, the patient is unaware that this is occurring because he/she is sleeping. The airway collapsing leads to brainwave arousals and oxygen drops in the blood, which in turn lead to disrupted sleep quality. When sleep quality is poor, it can lead to numerous cognitive issues such as daytime sleepiness, difficulty with concentration and memory, slowed reaction time, increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, emotional instability, irritability, etc. These oxygen drops and brainwave arousals also lead to increased risk of serious cardiac problems like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks. They may also lead to strokes. And in addition to the physiological dangers, the snoring associated with sleep apnea can present social issues – from the embarrassment of snoring on an airplane or shopping mall bench to husband and wife sleeping in separate beds, occasionally even leading to divorce.

If you have snoring, it is imperative that you either speak with your primary care physician or make an appointment with a sleep physician.

As with any article on this site, this information is for educational purposes only and in no way should be construed as medical advice.