I’m glad you asked that question—for three reasons. The first is because it means you have begun seeking a specialist’s help to analyze and treat your difficulty breathing during sleep. The second is because it gives me the chance to continue to spread the word about apnea—the easiest sleep disorder of all to treat—which affects about 4% of men over 30 and 2% of women over 50. (That’s a lot of people!) The third reason? It shows you care about your marriage!
People who snore loudly often are the butt of jokes—but snoring—so the saying goes—is no laughing matter. If it turns out you have sleep apnea, your wife’s frustration may be the best thing that’s happened to you in a while. You genuinely are fortunate that you have a bed-partner who is telling you what is happening while you sleep—as otherwise you might never know.
One of the primary myths of sleep that we in the sleep disorders field work diligently to correct is a belief that snoring is a sign of “deep sleep.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that snoring is a “sign” of is that a person is having difficulty getting air into his or her lungs.
Snoring is caused by the relaxation of muscle tone that occurs generally in our bodies when we fall asleep. Unfortunately, the muscles that support our airway (as it passes through our neck—where the back of the tongue meets the throat) also relax, and this is the location where breathing during sleep often becomes a problem. The airway becomes narrower, and it makes it harder for us to get air into our lungs.
Snoring is always an indicator of some level of difficulty breathing during sleep. The distinction that has to be made—and this can only be done by having a sleep test in an accredited sleep disorders center—is whether or not this difficulty breathing (increased resistance in the airway) is actually causing you to become low on oxygen during sleep—in which case your brain will cause you to awaken repeatedly from sleep to pull your oxygen levels up. But you, of course, won’t remember these arousals—often several hundred per night—because they occur in a semi-conscious state. But you will become progressively tired in your waking life, and you will suffer a significantly increased risk for heart attack and stroke due to the lack of oxygen during sleep. Other medical consequences include weight gain, high blood pressure, impotency, headaches, and failing memory.
March 29th is National Sleep Apnea Awareness Day in the USA, sponsored by the American Sleep Apnea Association. If we can all spread the word a little bit—that snoring is no laughing matter—to our friends, neighbors and co-workers—we will have helped to make National Sleep Apnea Awareness Day a success! We also (ask Paul’s wife) just might save a few marriages!
To make a doctor’s appointment with a sleep specialist in your area visit http://www.sleepcenters.org/index.aspx.