Do You Snore? When It’s More Than Just Noise
High-quality sleep is as crucial as diet and exercise in the quest to stay healthy. But just because you’re getting a full eight hours doesn’t mean you’re getting the rest you need. If you’re one of the 90 million Americans who snore, you might not be getting adequate sleep.
“We’ve always been taught that snoring is not harmful,” says Dr. Meeta Singh, senior staff and service chief of sleep medicine at Henry Ford Medical Group in Detroit. “But snoring is associated with a higher incidence of daytime sleepiness, heart disease and stroke.”
What is snoring?
When you sleep, the passage between your mouth and nose and your lungs may be wide open, closed, or partially open. Dr. Singh explains that when the airway is narrow but not closed, snoring occurs. If you stay in the snoring zone but your airway remains open, the only dangers are waking yourself up or being banished to the couch by a sleepless partner.
When is it dangerous?
But if your airway closes when you snore, even for a few seconds, you could have obstructive sleep apnea. Every time that happens, oxygen levels and blood pressure fall. Then, as your body tries to breathe against a closed airway, your blood pressure goes up. This strains your cardiovascular system. Sleep apnea is a significant health threat, putting you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
It’s not easy to know if you’re affected, especially if no one’s kicking you to stop your nighttime rumbles. Although 22 million Americans are estimated to have apnea, up to 80 percent of them are undiagnosed.
You might think that, because apnea causes your breathing to stop, you’d know if it were happening to you. Not so. Apnea just brings you to a lighter level of sleep. Many sufferers don’t wake up or don’t remember waking up.
Apnea is most common among older men, especially if they’re overweight. But anyone can have it, including children. Sometimes, the shape of your jaw makes it more likely your airway will close during sleep. Your doctor can check by looking in your mouth.
Daytime sleepiness is a major sign of sleep apnea, especially when accompanied by morning headaches and a sore throat. Even more telling are episodes of gasping and choking at night or even chest pains. And if you crash on a friend’s couch or share a hotel room with your kids, they might report loud snorts or periods of stopped breathing – a likely sign you have apnea.
Can apnea be treated?
Fortunately, the diagnosis and treatment are painless. Talk to your primary care physician first. They may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist. For many with sleep apnea, nothing is found on an exam. In that case, the next step is an evaluation by a sleep medicine provider. They will discuss appropriate tests for you (such as a sleep study).
If your airway closes more than five times per hour on average, you’ll probably be diagnosed with sleep apnea. Closing more than 30 or 40 times indicates severe apnea. It can be treated in several ways. The most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure machine, which blows air into the mouth and nose to keep the airway open. CPAPs can take some getting used to. The side effects may include dry mouth and stomach bloating. But if your sleep doctor can generally help you troubleshoot CPAP side effects.
Are there other ways to stop snoring?
If you’re snoring but wake up refreshed, are not groggy and enjoy normal blood pressure, chances are your snoring isn’t a health problem. Of course, you might want to turn down the volume for the sake of your sleepmate. The best way to stop snoring is to lose weight, and avoid alcohol, big meals, and medications that cause drowsiness for several hours before turning in. Try sleeping on your side, with a pillow behind your back to keep you from shifting.
Getting to the bottom of your snoring – why you do it, if it’s dangerous and how to stop – takes persistence, but the rewards are worth it. An open airway during sleep means truly restful sleep for you.
Looking to see if a CPAP machine is covered?
A CPAP machine is covered if you meet the criteria after a sleep study and have durable medical coverage with your HAP plan. You can check to see if you have durable medical equipment coverage by logging in at hap.org, clicking on My Benefits, and then clicking on Summary of Benefits and Coverage.