Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Do you have a bed partner who snores?  In addition to waking you up, the snoring may represent a dangerous medical condition: sleep apnea.

You can imagine your airway as a tube going from your nose and mouth to your lungs.  It is surrounded by soft tissue and muscle.  When you are awake, the muscle is taught and holds the airway open.  When you fall asleep, the muscle relaxes, and the airway shrinks.  When the airway shrinks, airflow through becomes turbulent, and structures in the throat vibrate- that’s snoring.  When the airway totally closes, you can’t breathe through it.  Breathing pauses; “apnea” just means a pause in breathing.  So sleep apnea is pausing of breathing during sleep.  When you can’t breathe, your lungs can’t get oxygen, your blood can’t get oxygen, and your brain can’t get oxygen.  The brain sends a signal back to these muscles around the upper airway to tense.  This signal includes a shot of adrenaline, which causes a spike in blood pressure and pulse.

Over the short run, people with sleep apnea tend to sleep less solidly, feel sleepy during the day, and have less energy during the day.  Over the long run, people with sleep apnea are at higher risk for stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.  Treatment of sleep apnea may reduce these risks.  So, do your loved one a favor, and ask him or her to speak to a physician about any snoring.