Sleep apnea: Everyone knows Uncle Joe snores. Every time he comes over for dinner, he ends up afterward in the recliner asleep and sawing logs, right? People joke about all the noise he’s making in what appears to be in a very deep sleep—sleep only interrupted by his jolting awake. “Oh, he heard us talking about him,” everyone shrugs off.
What no one is recognizing is that Uncle Joe has a sleep-disordered breathing condition known as sleep apnea.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than 18 million American adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is one type of sleep-disordered breathing. OSA occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep. When the muscles relax, the tissues in the throat and the tongue can collapse into the airway and block the sleeper’s ability to breathe. That causes the OSA sufferer to stop breathing for up to 10 seconds to 2 minutes at a time. In people with extremely severe OSA, that happens more than 45 times an hour!
One of the most noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring, which is caused by vibration of the tissues and tongue that are partially blocking the flow of air at the back of the throat. The severity of sleep apnea is measured based on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which measures the number of breathing disruptions per hour. and/or the drop in Oxygen saturation by 4% Currently, a diagnosis of sleep apnea means there must be five or more pauses per hour is an AHI of 5 or more. While patients who snore may not ultimately be diagnosed with sleep apnea, snoring is never a good sign. It’s something that should be checked. People that snore may also be suffering from upper airway resistance (UAR), another type of sleep-disordered breathing. UAR occurs when there is a small constriction somewhere else in the upper airway—such as in the nose—that is reducing airflow to the body.
Over time, reduced airflow can ultimately deprive the body of much-needed oxygen and that can lead to a host of other chronic—and even deadly—diseases such as high blood pressure or insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, early dementia, cancer, depression, and more. So more than just snoring and dealing with all the other daily problems that come from a night of constantly interrupted sleep—falling asleep at inopportune moments such as at work or behind the wheel of a car—sleep apnea sufferers can end up dealing with many significant health issues because their body and brain are starving for oxygen.
Instead of ignoring the snore, it is time to recognize it for what it is—a foghorn in the night signaling trouble ahead.
If you know someone who snores, don’t put off finding out the source of the noise. Answer these questions to help you see whether someone you know may need to get checked for sleep apnea.
- Do I have a family member who snores?
- Does someone I care about seem to be tired all the time?
Do I know someone with a chronic disease such as high blood pressure or insulin resistance, a history of cardiovascular disease or stroke, early dementia, cancer, depression, irritability, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or erectile dysfunction?