Has anyone ever told you that you snore? Lots of people don’t even know they snore until they hear someone say something like, “You woke me up last night,” or “You’re so loud when you sleep!”
Think about how it feels when you swallow. Your tongue presses against the back of your throat. It creates a seal so that air can’t move into your stomach when you eat and drink. It also protects you from accidentally getting anything in your lungs that doesn’t belong there. Your throat needs to be able to close, but if this happens while you’re sleeping, it can cause you to snore. There are many reasons snoring can happen. Maybe you’re a bit overweight. Maybe your tongue is very large. Maybe you have had a bit too much to drink. Maybe you have trouble sleeping and have started taking a sleeping pill that makes you extra relaxed.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
Snoring can be very annoying to someone sleeping next to you, but, in most cases, it is harmless. The sound comes from air squeezing past those relaxed tissues and causing your throat to vibrate when you breathe. If no one is bothered by the sound, and your noisy breathing is consistent (around 12 breaths per minute), then there is no need to do anything about it. Snoring is not anything to be concerned about until you stop. Sometimes those tissues in the throat can close a little too tightly, and you may stop breathing altogether for several seconds. These pauses in breathing are called “sleep apnea.”
Sleep apnea is commonly described as very loud snoring followed by a long pause in breathing. During this pause in breathing, your body is still trying to breathe. The muscles in your chest are still trying to pull in the air, and they try and try and try until your brain begins to panic and wakes you up just enough to make a loud, gasping breath. Sometimes you may remember waking up at night feeling like you can’t breathe, but most of the time, you don’t wake up all the way, and you start drifting back towards deep sleep. However, if you keep waking yourself up to breathe every time you fall into a deep sleep, you never get the rest your body needs, and that can have serious side effects in other areas of your life.
What is Deep Sleep?
The deep sleep portion of your sleep cycle is extremely important to your brain and body. It’s called “REM sleep” (which stands for “rapid eye movement” because your eyes twitch). Studies have shown that adults need about 3-4 hours of REM sleep every night. During this deep sleep cycle, your brain processes everything you did during the day and forms memories, which is why problems remembering things are a common side effect of sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Causes Health Issues
Sleep apnea also commonly causes headaches – especially first thing in the morning. If you are waking up every day with a headache, your brain may not be getting enough oxygen while you’re sleeping. You may also wake up with a sore throat or dry mouth from all that snoring and gasping. There is also a high risk of depression, mood swings, and irritability. The brain is very picky about the quality of sleep you give it.
Another daytime sign of sleep apnea is excessive fatigue. If you can’t stay awake to watch a movie, or you can’t concentrate long enough to read a few emails, chances are your sleep cycles are not being regulated. Some people even report falling asleep while sitting at a red light or in traffic. Your doctor will use your daytime sleepiness, as well as any other symptoms you experience, as an indicator of how likely you are to need treatment.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Treatment for sleep apnea can be as simple as changing the position you sleep in. If you sleep lying flat on your back, that will increase the likelihood of your tongue pushing against the back of your throat while you sleep. Many people find it helpful to sleep in a recliner or propped up against a stack of pillows. Sometimes sleeping on your side can be helpful.
If you are overweight, you may just need to lose some weight to take a bit of the load off your throat (literally). Exploring this option is especially encouraged if you don't have sleep apnea.
Your doctor may want to try fitting you for an oral device. There are many options for these available online, but it is not recommended to purchase and use anything without the oversight of your doctor, as they may not work. To get a truly effective oral device, you will have to be fitted for one by your dentist. They will get an impression of your teeth and determine what kind of oral device you need. Some pull your jaw forward and some that hold your tongue in place to keep your airway open. After your dentist makes your custom oral device, they will examine you with it to make sure it does the job correctly.
If all else fails, you may need to get a CPAP/BiPAP machine. PAP machines work by blowing air into your airway to hold it open while you breathe. They take some getting used to, but the testimonies of people who use them are overwhelmingly good. PAP machines come with a variety of options for masks. Some cover your mouth and nose, some that only cover your nose, some that cover your mouth and sit against your nose, some that only touch your nostrils – if you can imagine your perfect mask, chances are someone has made one.
Contact a Specialist
If you are worried that your snoring might be sleep apnea, you can take a quick assessment here. The sleep apnea experts at Livosa can walk you through every step to make sure you get the treatment you need as fast as possible.