I’ve heard it many times. Jane Doe comes in for her cleaning appointment and tells me I need to talk to her husband John Doe about his snoring because it’s been years since they’ve slept in the same bed all night. I dutifully say I’ll do my best, knowing full well John will deny that he engages in this nocturnal ritual.
Now, not every John denies this. The Johns that admit it will follow with “It’s not a big deal. Jane just pokes me and makes me turn on my side”. What am I to do? Get between Jane and John? The snoring already has, so there’s no place for me.
87 million Americans snore, so you are not alone, but you could be in danger. 40 million Americans are chronic sufferers of sleep disorders, but only 10% have been treated or diagnosed, so there are some walking strokes and heart attacks among you and your friends.
Snoring occurs when the airway or passage through which you breathe becomes partially blocked. This can happen when your tongue falls back as you drift off into deeper sleep. As the diameter of the airway passage shrinks, throat vibrations begin, and snoring ensues.
In many scenarios, this compromise is minor and your body continues to get adequate amounts of oxygen, causing little or no harm, although discord with your bed partner is something different altogether. However, this is a red flag as it could be one of the early signs or a component of “obstructive sleep apnea” (OSA). In fact, 40% of snorers have been shown to have OSA. Most all sleep apnea sufferers snore in between bouts of apnea (no airflow), or oxygen interruption (decreased airflow).
In one well-known study, patients with untreated sleep apnea had a 37% chance of dying within eight years versus 4% for patients who had received treatment for their sleep apnea. That’s scary enough to pay attention to that bed partner who is sawing some serious logs.
OSA sufferers have a rough night and don’t even know what’s happening to them. In a given night, these apneic events (when a patient stops breathing) can occur more than 30 times an hour! Obviously, these individuals awake exhausted each morning, as they’ve been fighting for oxygen all night. Sleep should be a replenishing tool for each of us. Their bed partners also suffer from poor sleep due to being woken up by the snoring, difficulty getting to sleep, or staying up waiting for their bed partner to begin breathing again.
Should you be worried? Well, to answer that, first analyze some signs and symptoms of OSA sufferers. Common side effects of OSA include:
- heart attacks or irregular heartbeats
- high blood pressure
- morning headaches
- dry mouth
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- impaired concentration
- depression and decreased quality of life
- decreased libido
- poor job performance
- family discord
… and the obvious one, chronic sleepiness. A simple test can be taken that will grade this last symptom called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (you can get a copy emailed to you by contacting the office). Not all apneic will score high, but if you do, it is a very good sign of OSA.
OSA can also cause learning or memory disabilities, as well as periods of nodding off while on the phone or at work. Obviously, sleep apnea patients are at a much greater risk of having auto accidents.
So, what’s the cure? Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for sleep apnea, but it is treatable. The type of treatment for sleep apnea depends on the severity of the disorder as assessed by a sleep specialist. The goal of treatment is to keep the airway open during sleep leading to improved sleep, better oxygenation, and enhanced daytime alertness.
First, the patient should undergo a sleep study to determine the extent of any sleep apnea. Depending on the test results, the recommendations will vary. A CPAP machine is often recommended in moderate to severe cases, while an oral appliance (airway orthotic) is usually suggested if the OSA is slight, or if the snoring is not a part of OSA at all. There are also acceptable surgical options, and patients are encouraged to seek advice from their physician for these. We are able to provide home sleep tests through the office that are interpreted by a board-certified physician or can work directly with your primary care physicians to get a sleep study ordered and evaluated.
Whatever your choice, please do not ignore this. It is a very serious health concern and one that has proven to shorten the life of the sufferer. Make it your End of the Year Resolution to stop snoring!