Snoring: big noise, little truth

Snoring is taken for granted, ignored and borne with…but never understood for what it really is

woman sleepingDo you believe that snoring is just a nuisance for those around but otherwise harmless? You are mistaken. It is a serious problem that affects multitudes, the world over.

Snoring means a person is getting deep comfortable sleep

It's quite the opposite—snoring causes frequent disruptions in sleep and prevents a person from drifting into deeper stages of sleep, that are essential to function normally.

It is a sign that your body is struggling to breathe and is caused due to vibrations of the soft palate, which obstructs the airway. Obstructed breathing also results in a drop in the blood oxygenation, causing the heart to pump faster to prevent oxygen deprivation.

Such stress on the cardiovascular system has several short- and long-term health consequences. Snoring, in children, although relatively rare, is particularly worse as their rapidly developing brain requires high levels of oxygen in the blood.

It is normal to snore because everyone snores

Snoring is a disease and considering it normal undermines the seriousness of the underlying health hazards. Excessive or regular snoring can be an indication of sleep apnoea [pauses in breathing].

Sleep apnoea sufferers have been reported to have diminished amount of brain cells for intelligence and intellect, i.e. gray cells, due to the oxygen deprivation from untreated sleep apnoea.

Reports have shown that as the quality of sleep decreases, the secretion of vital hormones like growth hormone, melatonin, and cortisol too diminishes. This eventually leads to various problems like obesity, early ageing, lethargy, poor concentration, irritability, hypertension and degrading your immune function.

Snoring only affects me so I can ignore it

Snoring affects not just the health of the person snoring, but also their bed partner. A typical snorer usually produces a noise that averages around 60 decibels [about the level of a vacuum cleaner] but with some people this can reach 80 or even 90 decibels [about the level of an average factory].

Sleeping with a partner who snores during the night has been shown to increase the blood pressure of the other person, which may be dangerous for the person's health in the long term. The partner gets fragmented sleep and loses up to one hour of sleep every night [on an average].

Sleep deprivation due to snoring is also responsible for a majority of road accidents—Delhi police maintains that if a person suffers from snoring and therefore a condition that makes it dangerous to drive, the individual's actions may be considered negligent and may lead to civil or criminal liability in the event that someone is injured or killed.

Snoring is due to nasal congestion, so if I clear my nose, my snoring will stop

While having a stuffy nose may worsen your snoring and sleep apnoea, it is not the cause. A recent study showed that undergoing nasal surgery for breathing problems cured sleep apnoea in only 10 per cent of patients.

Snoring vibrations typically come from the soft palate, which is aggravated by having a small jaw and the tongue falling back. It's a complicated relationship between the nose, the soft palate and the tongue.

There is no treatment for snoring

Snoring can and should be treated. Some treatment options are rather drastic, possibly requiring surgery or CPAP [air pump that forces you to breathe], but prior to exploring such options, it would be wise to first seek alternative treatments.

Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and heavy meals before sleeping can greatly reduce your snoring. Oral appliances too are a cost effective treatment method that have no major side effects. Comparative studies have shown that 75 per cent prefer an oral appliance over CPAP due to comfort and ease of use.

This was first published in the May 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Viranchi B Oza is the lead dentist at Omnisleep Solutions, Mumbai. He specialises in the treatment of sleep breathing disorders using oral appliances. He has trained extensively with leading American dentists in the area of applied dentistry in sleep medicine and works closely with Jamison Spencer, pioneer in dental sleep medicine and craniofacial pain in Boise, Idaho, USA.

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