When a person snores while sleeping, it means their breathing is blocked. Under normal conditions, air moves freely through the nose and throat to the lungs. Snoring occurs when air cannot move freely; the tissues in the throat relax for too long, partly blocking the airway, causing vibration. This creates the snoring sound.
Often, the person snoring is not aware of the condition and people around them are first to notice the problem.
Snoring Is Symptomatic of Sleep Apnoea
Snoring is one of the first indicators of a sleep disorder called sleep apnoea. A person with sleep apnoea will have erratic breathing that stops and starts repeatedly due to partial obstruction of the upper airways. They may snore regularly or often, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnoea. Simple snoring which is known to be caused by muscle fatigue does not affect the quality of sleep, as it does not happen regularly and can be triggered by a common cold, tiredness and drinking alcohol. However, if a person wakes up at night gasping for breath, breathes through the mouth while sleeping, feels tired in the morning, and suffers from daytime sleepiness, this can mean that the person is suffering from sleep apnoea.
Excess weight around the neck can cause airways to collapse during sleep and therefore people who are obese or have excess weight around their neck are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea.
The Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease
When a person stops breathing due to sleep apnoea, the heart rate drops suddenly due to falling oxygen levels. The brain immediately senses the lack of oxygen supply and wakes the person up at once to restore it. This sudden waking up, abruptly increases the heart rate and blood pressure. When this happens repeatedly, these erratic high blood pressure levels can escalate the risk of cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and heart failure.
The body releases a stress hormone called adrenaline (also called epinephrine) when oxygen levels drop due to airway obstruction. When the body stops breathing in intervals, the adrenaline level in the blood increases. This is known to elevate blood pressure and heart rate.
Prolonged snoring due to sleep apnoea reduces the elasticity of the heart and makes the heart walls stiffer. With the development of such factors, the heart finds it difficult to pump blood efficiently and may develop a rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation means an irregular and rapid heart rate.
Vibration due to snoring can thicken the walls of the internal and external carotid arteries located on either side of the neck. While the external carotid artery supplies blood to the scalp, face, and neck, the brain receives blood from the internal carotid artery. As the carotid arteries stiffen, the supply of blood to the brain is impacted and the risk of suffering stroke increases.
Can treatments for snoring help decrease heart disease risk?
Treating sleep apnoea with therapies like CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) or BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) can help manage the problem of snoring. According to doctors, blood pressure can come down to normal levels when the patient undergoes treatment for sleep apnoea. Lowering blood pressure can reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and heart failure.
Snoring Can Be Prevented
While treatments can help relieve snoring, there are ways in which snoring can be controlled or prevented.
Lose weight: Excess weight, especially around the neck, suppresses the internal diameter of the throat which makes breathing tough.
Sleep on the side: When someone sleeps on their back, there is a likelihood of the base of the tongue and soft palate (roof of the mouth) collapsing in the back of the throat, causing snoring. Therefore, sleeping sideways is known to be better than lying on the back.
Avoid alcohol: Having alcohol and certain sedatives just before sleeping tends to relax the muscles of the throat, which is likely to cause snoring. It is therefore advisable to avoid drinking alcohol just before bedtime.
Sleep adequately: Getting an adequate amount of sleep every single night is important. When a person sleeps after a long busy day, their body is exhausted, muscles then tend to relax more than needed. This leads to snoring.
Don’t smoke: Smoking can cause inflammations in the tissues which line the airways. Doctors recommend cutting down on smoking to reduce snoring.