Snoring: The social killer
If you frequently snore you may be familiar with the accusations coming from your partner. This is not unusual because snoring can be extremely loud making it impossible for the partner to fall asleep or stay asleep. Many couples where on partner snores have separate bedrooms. There have been cases where partners separated because of snoring.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is caused by vibration of soft tissue in the through, more exactly, in the pharynx. The tissue involved is the soft palate, the uvula, the tongue base in the back of the throat and sometimes also the pharyngeal walls.
Is our own sleep disrupted by our own snoring?
No, not by the noise. Generally, it is the bed partner who’s sleep is disrupted by the noise. But also the sleep of the snorer can be disrupted, though not directly by the noise. When snoring leads to an impediment of airflow, then we call that flow limitation. Flow limitation will lead to a reduced amount of air with every breath we are taking during sleep. And this can be sensed by the brain. We are briefly awakened during sleep without taking note of it. If this happens often enough during the night then sleep is very fragmented. Daytime sleepiness will result. At this point complete breathing stoppage may not be present. Thus, we call this disorder Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (first described by Christian Guilleminault and myself in the 1990ies).
Is snoring dangerous?
Not neccessarly. But significant daytime sleepiness can result.
Undiagnosed sleep apnea syndrome
In Germany an estimated 4 million people suffer from sleep apnea syndrome. In most cases this sleep disorder remains undiagnosed for many years and it is believed that many will die from it before it can be diagnosed. This is unfortunate because effective treatment can prolong the life of patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Main reason for this is that still today there is little awareness about this sleep disorder. This also includes many physicians.
Many sufferers do not know that they have it because they are not co-sleeping anymore. Non-specific symptoms of sleep apnea include morning headaches, daytime fatigue, daytime sleepiness, arterial hypertension, sweating at night, dry throat in the morning. More specific is the symptom of snoring and even more specific the witness of breathing stoppage at night by a third person. Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome include male gender and being overweight. But women can also suffer from it, especially after the menopause.
Sleep apnea: Upper airway collapse
Literally speaking sleep apnea translates into “windless”. The apnea is caused by a complete collapse of the upper airway. In most cases the collapse lasts anywhere from 10 seconds to one minute or even longer. One can imagine that this leads to a lack of oxygen which physicians call hypoxia. These apneas can occur troughout a given night. It is not uncommon that some patients may have 300 or more breathing stoppages. That means that their sleep is completely disrupted and they are exposed to a significant lack of oxygen.