You hear it everywhere these days: one of the foundations for healthy living is sleep. For many of us, though, getting enough quality sleep is easier said than done. Ask anyone who sleeps with a partner and they’ll likely point the finger at snoring as the cause of many sleepless nights. Annoying? Yes. But snoring could also be a warning flag for other, more serious, health issues. For approximately half of snorers, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the cause.

 

What is obstructive sleep apnea?
OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when the upper passages of the airway are blocked during sleep and breathing is interrupted for a period of at least 10 seconds. It is usually brief but also repetitive over the course of a sleep cycle. Someone with severe OSA will experience breathing disruptions over 30 times an hour¹. These breathing interruptions often lead to sleep interruptions known as arousals: brief periods of waking that usually aren’t remembered but can seriously reduce sleep quality. In addition to repeated episodes of waking, OSA can lead to a laundry list of undesirable side effects as well as the potential for serious health problems.

Approximately 50 percent of snorers suffer from obstructive sleep apnea².
As many as 80 percent of cases go undiagnosed³.
5 million Canadians have, or are at risk for, obstructive sleep apnea⁴.
There is a strong correlation between the intensity of snoring and the severity of obstructive sleep apnea⁵.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea sufferers include:
  • Loud and/or regular snoring
  • Irregular breathing, choking or gasping during sleep
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia, particularly trouble staying asleep
  • Feelings of depression, irritability, and mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent bathroom trips
  • Acid reflux
  • Sexual dysfunction
Who’s at greater risk of sleep apnea? 
Certain factors can put you more at risk for developing OSA. These include:
  • Male gender
  • Menopausal or post-menopausal women
  • Middle age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Certain physical features (e.g. large neck circumference, nasal obstruction, enlarged tonsils)
  • Family history of OSA
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol or sedatives
The longer-term health risks of obstructive sleep apnea

The most serious complications from leaving OSA untreated include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure. In fact, researchers estimate that untreated OSA may increase the risk of dying from heart disease by up to five times⁶.

Even without obstructive sleep apnea, snoring alone can be detrimental to one’s health. The most serious complication is thickening of the carotid artery – a precursor to atherosclerosis and many vascular diseases⁷. 

What can you do?

Concerned that your snoring might be a sign of something more serious? Think your partner might have sleep apnea? Don’t wait too long. Start by getting an accurate diagnosis. But be aware that self-diagnosis can be dangerous,  a complete sleep assessment is essential for an accurate diagnosis.

Historically, the only option for a sleep study was a night spent in a sleep lab or clinic. Many snorers put off getting a sleep study because it can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, assuming they even have access to a sleep lab in their area. And high demand means wait times can be years.

More recently, home sleep studies have emerged, but they are not all created equal. Most home sleep apnea tests only measure breathing – they don’t measure when you’re sleeping, missing sleep disruptions, an essential part of sleep evaluation. Home sleep apnea tests can under-diagnose or miss OSA completely. Only Cerebra sleep study lets you skip the waiting list and measures sleep in the brain to see how your sleep is actually impacted by OSA.

Think snoring is only a hazard for the one doing it? Find out the health effects of living with a snorer.
References
1. Harvard Medical School. Understanding the Results. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/sleep-apnea/diagnosing-osa/understanding-results
2. National Sleep Foundation. Is Snoring a Sign of Sleep Apnea. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.sleep.org/articles/snoring-and-sleep-apnea/
3. Young, T. et al. (1997) Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle-aged men and women. Sleep, 20(9):705-706.
4. Evans, J. et al. (2014) Sleep laboratory test referrals in Canada: Sleep Apnea Rapid Response Survey. Canadian Respiratory Journal, 21(1): e4-e10.
5. Maimon, N. & Hanly, P. (2010) Does snoring intensity correlate with the severity of obstructive sleep apnea? Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 6(5): 475-478.
6. Harvard Medical School. How sleep apnea affects the heart. February 2013. Retrieved July 2, 2019,
from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/how-sleep-apnea-affects-the-heart
7. Deeb, R. et al. (2019) Snoring and carotid artery disease: A new risk factor emerges. Laryngoscope, 129(1): 265-268.