CINCINNATI—Besides serving as a warning sign for larger health issues, snoring can have a major impact on those around you.
Victoria Surdulescu, MD, UC Health sleep expert and director of the University Pointe Surgical Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in West Chester, says that half of Americans snore, and the problem becomes more prevalent with an increase in weight and age, but it can occur in all populations—even in children.
"Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder; however, it is one of the warning signs,” she says.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing, or apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes.
There are three forms of sleep apnea: central, obstructive and mixed, meaning a combination of the first two. In central, breathing is interrupted by a lack of respiratory effort; in obstructive, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort, and snoring is common.
"I describe obstructive sleep apnea like sucking a thick milkshake through a thin paper straw: When the straw, which is like your airway, collapses, sleep apnea occurs,” Surdulescu says. "Sleep apnea varies in severity, but regardless, it could have a cardiovascular impact. It takes a tremendous amount of force to open a collapsed airway, leading to high blood pressure. Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea are more likely to experience high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias or diabetes, and this isn’t just for overweight patients.”
She adds, however, that sleep apnea can contribute to gaining weight.
"If you’re tired, you eat, and you eat because you need energy, but you’re too tired to exercise, leading to more weight gain,” she says. "It’s a vicious cycle.”
In addition, Surdulescu says snoring can have powerful effects on your partner.
A recent study presented at the SLEEP 2011 conference in Boston showed that wives who have trouble falling asleep are more likely to report negative interactions with their spouse the next day. Husbands were also affected, rating the couple's interactions as less positive the day after their wives tossed and turned.
"I often have wives and husbands complaining about their other half keeping them awake at night sawing logs,” Surdulescu says. "Believe it or not, snoring has the ability to drive people apart and cause problems in relationships.
"There is such a thing as simple snoring, but if it gets progressively worse, there could be a problem. Don’t put off getting a sleep test for both the sake of your health and your relationship.”