Is Snoring Dangerous To My Health?

My Name is Jason and I Snore…Loudly

Many of us are all too familiar with being banished to the couch or spare bedroom because of our embarrassing little problem; heavy snoring. Maybe some of you are the butt of your golfing buddies’ jokes about that upcoming trip where one poor soul gets the short end of the straw to share a room with you. Sure, your snoring helps keep the bears away on camping trips but where does this come in handy when you’re bunking with a co-worker for a corporate conference or that out of town bachelor party?

Snoring and Treatment
Snoring: The Universal Language of Sleep Disordered Breathing

For many people’s perspective of their own snoring it’s more a case of vanity or social stigma when it comes to these situations but what about all those other nights? Is it taking its toll on your health?   Maybe your snoring is the dirty little secret that you have been able to keep from everyone and there is always that level of anxiety when a potential situation comes up where you might have to share sleeping space with someone. You are not alone; this is a common problem that affects many people, even the ladies that will quickly deny they are guilty of it too. It is said that about 45% of the population snores to some degree while as many as 25% are habitual snorers (those of us that do it on a nightly basis).

So Why Do I Snore?

The snoring sound that you hear is the vibration of the airway made during the exchange of breathing in and out caused by a partially obstructed or narrowed airway. Your snoring can be a result of many different factors. Identify if this has been a lifelong problem or something that has surfaced in the last few years or so. Age and weigh gain top the reasons for people that never snored in the past but have recently started snoring. As we get older we lose muscle tone, and that muscle tone that is designed to keep the airway stable begins to collapse, thus snoring is created.

snoring and sleep apnea
Progression of Snoring to Sleep Apnea

The physical make up of your airway such as excess tissue, enlarged tongue and/or uvula (punching back looking thing in your throat) and tonsils may cause your snoring and upper airway resistance.

I hear it all the time; “I only snore when I sleep on my back”. Do you know why that is? Positional and sleep stage related snoring is most commonly heard while you are on your back and may or may not be in REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. When we sleep on our back gravity shows us that our airway is most susceptible to collapse. Add in REM sleep, a stage best described as an active mind in a paralyzed body, and you have a full loss of muscle tone to create sleep disordered and loud snoring.

Alcohol is a depressant that relaxes the muscles making the airway more susceptible to collapse and produce snoring as well as apnea events. Ever wonder why your snoring seems so much louder and more frequent when you’ve had a few to drink? Now you know why.

What Are The Dangers of Snoring?

Strain to personal relationships. It goes without saying that it is common knowledge that some spouses sleep in different rooms and the wedge that drives them apart often times is the loud snoring. Not only is this disruptive to your sleep stages but also the sleep stages of the person lying next to you.

Progression to sleep disordered breathing events such as apneas (cessation of airflow from a blocked airway), hypopneas, upper airway resistance syndrome, sleep fragmentation, and respiratory related arousals, prevent you from entering a deeper stage of sleep.

Sleep Apnea and Death
If Left Untreated, Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Co-Morbid Conditions and Even Death

The health risks associated with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are well documented through research and can be deadly with links to hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, stroke, diabetes.  Sufferers may also experience depression, excessive daytime fatigue, moodiness, irritability and sexual dysfunction. Needless to say, snoring can be an indicator or warning sign of a more serious sleep disorder breathing (SDB) event.

If you snore or wake up gasping for air during the night or experience some of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea you should speak with your physician about testing options. At home sleep apnea tests, a small device worn in your own home while you sleep, can be great tools to assess the presence of sleep disordered breathing or the need for a more comprehensive in-lab polysomnograph monitored by a qualified sleep technologist.

What Can I Do to Fix My Problem?

For those of us with mild or situational cases there are less invasive options such as weight loss through healthy diet and exercise or eliminating smoking or alcohol. In some cases of positional snoring an alternative therapy  of a bumper belt or tee-shirt that has tennis balls sewn in to the back so that it discourages you from sleeping supine (on your back). To rule out sleep apnea or any other respiratory sleep related disorder it is best recommended to speak with your physician about undergoing a sleep test. Most sleep studies are covered by insurance as well and if you do not have insurance or have a high deductible plan you can still undergo a home sleep apnea evaluation for very little cost. If it is determined that you have sleep apnea, upper airway resistance, or a sleep breathing disorder a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) may be prescribed (along with a CPAP Mask). CPAP is the only 100% proven effective treatment for sleep apnea however there are surgical procedures or oral appliances that have been shown to be successful in certain qualified candidates. (Alternative therapy is also available: see Provent)

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.