The Scoop on Snoring

If you stop breathing, choke or gasp during sleep, you may have sleep apnea, which can be serious…

It has been described as the cacophony of sleep, or sawing logs. Snoring can be a mild annoyance or it can signal a health hazard. Either way, snoring can prevent you or your partner from getting a good night’s sleep.

Snoring is caused when you breathe in from your nose or mouth during sleep, and it causes a vibration in the back of the throat, according to Donald Doyle, M.D., FCCP, with NorthBay Healthcare’s pulmonary medicine. The loud, raspy noise that results can be blamed on those sleep-relaxed muscles of the mouth, throat and tongue, and the more they narrow the airway, the louder the vibration. “It is usually worse on inspiration, but can occur on expiration, as well.”

There is no typical snorer, but it occurs more frequently among men than women, Dr. Doyle says, and although there are many causes for snoring in children, it may represent enlarged tonsils.

You may be able to improve simple snoring by losing weight, sleeping on your side and not your back, and avoiding the use of alcohol or sedative medicines before you go to bed. Nasal congestion can also make snoring worse, and appropriate therapy can improve symptoms.

But, if you stop breathing, choke or gasp during sleep, you may have sleep apnea, which can be serious.

“Sleep apnea means your airway collapses when you fall asleep, and the decrease in oxygen causes you to arouse,” Dr. Doyle explains. “Because of frequent arousals, you may not get all the normal stages of sleep, such as REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, which can lead to daytime sleepiness.”

People with sleep apnea may not feel rested after a night’s sleep, may feel sleepy during the day and wake up with a headache. Your partner may comment that you seem to stop breathing during sleep, snore loudly, make gasping or choking sounds or toss and turn.

People with sleep apnea are not only sleeping poorly, but having this condition may also increase the chances of getting high blood pressure, an abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, depression or diabetes.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

You may be asked to take part in a special test called a sleep study. Conducted in a lab, this study monitors your night’s slumber for such things as oxygen saturation, nasal air flow, EEGs, and the movement of your chest and abdomen, Dr. Doyle notes.

Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor may recommend either the use of a machine, called a CPAP (or continuous positive airway pressure device), a dental device or, in some cases, even surgery, to help improve your sleep.

To learn more about snoring, sleep apnea or the sleep study, you can make an appointment with Dr. Doyle by calling Pulmonary Medicine at (707) 646-4180.

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