A lot of people snore. It can be caused by nasal blockage or a narrowing of the throat that occurs when muscles relax during sleep. As air is forced through these narrowed airways, soft tissues vibrate and create that familiar nighttime sound. Snoring isn't necessarily bad for your health, but it can be quite annoying to others within earshot.
When snoring becomes irregular, and is mixed with pauses in breath and gasps for air, this could be a sign of a far more serious condition known as sleep apnea. An apnea is a stoppage of the breath. During sleep, these apneas happen when the throat is blocked by the tongue or soft tissues of the throat, which momentarily collapse inward as muscles relax. When breathing stops carbon dioxide builds in the lungs and the body's oxygen levels drop. Eventually, a subconscious survival instinct kicks in, releasing a dose of stress hormones that momentarily jolt the sleeper awake to gasp for air and resume breathing.
These sleep interruptions are so quick that most people don't even register the awakening. Sleep apnea sufferers may go through this cycle dozens to hundreds of times each night, without even known they aren't sleeping soundly. This type of “stop and start” sleep is quite hard on the body. Not only is the apnea victim robbed of deep, restorative sleep, the constant release of stress hormones and the drops in blood oxygen levels can be damaging to health.
If a bedmate tells you that you seem to stop breathing or are doing a lot of snorting and gasping, you should not ignore these warnings. If you sleep alone, there may be other indicators of sleep apnea, including morning headaches and sore throats, drowsiness throughout the day, poor job performance and a tendency to fall asleep while sitting or driving. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, it's important to seek help.
You can contact Dr. Timmerman's offices for advice and help on treating your sleep apnea.