Sleep and Snoring
Snoring is a common sleep disorder that can affect all people at any age, although it occurs more frequently in men and people who are overweight. Snoring has a tendency to worsen with age. Forty-five percent of adults snore occasionally, while 25% are considered habitual snorers.
Occasional snoring is usually not very serious and is mostly a nuisance for the bed partner of the person who snores. However, the habitual snorer not only disrupts the sleep patterns of those close to him, he also disturbs his own. Habitual snorers snore whenever they sleep and are often tired after a night of what seems like quality rest. Medical assistance is usually needed for habitual snorers to get a good night's sleep.
What Causes Snoring?
The physical obstruction of the flow of air through the mouth and nose is the cause of snoring. The walls of the throat vibrate during breathing, resulting in the distinctive sounds of snoring. Air flow can be obstructed by a combination of factors, including:
Obstructed nasal airways: Partially blocked nasal passages require extra effort to transfer air through them while sleeping. This can pull together or collapse the non-rigid soft and dangling tissue of the throat, resulting in snoring. Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum (a "crooked" wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps can also cause obstruction and sleep problems.
Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue: Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the airway. This can result from deep sleep, alcohol, and some sleeping pills. Normal aging causes further relaxation of these muscles and increases the potential for snoring.
Bulky throat tissue: Being overweight can cause bulky throat tissue. Also, children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore.
Long soft palate and/or uvula: One of the most common causes of snoring, a long soft palate or uvula (the dangling tissue in back of the mouth) can block the opening at the back of the throat. When these structures vibrate and bump against one another during sleep, the airway becomes obstructed and causes snoring.
What Are the Health Risks of Snoring?
Habitual snorers can be at risk for serious health problems. Obstructive sleep apnea is an illness that is often associated with chronic snoring. This condition creates several problems, including:
Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway. Serious cases can have total blockage episodes hundreds of times per night.
Frequent waking from sleep, even though he or she may not realize it.
Snorers with obstructive sleep apnea sleep lightly to try to keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
Blood oxygen levels are often lowered, which causes the heart to pump harder and blood pressure to rise. The result is a poor night's sleep, which leads to drowsiness during the day and can interfere with the persons quality of life. Prolonged suffering from obstructed sleep apnea will result in higher blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.
The stress of not getting enough oxygen causes the body to produce adrenalin, a chemical that helps our bodies fight and cope with stressful situations. Adrenalin also causes blood sugar to rise, whi