Before you discount your snoring as nothing out of the ordinary, consider this: People whose snoring is caused by severe sleep apnea have a 40 percent greater chance of dying early than do their peers. That’s because this sleep disorder is related to a host of health problems, from heart disease to depression. Here are some of the associated health complications
Recent research found that the intensity of snoring is related to the risk of carotid atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries in the neck due to fatty deposits) and as a result, stroke. Simply put, the louder and longer you snore each night, the greater your long-term risk for a stroke. Protect yourself by getting help for snoring, especially if you experience daytime sleepiness, if your spouse says your breathing stops in your sleep (both signs of sleep apnea), or if you have other health concerns, such as high blood pressure.
“We know that sleep apnea is linked to cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, eventually leading to possible heart attacks,” says Dr. Doghramji. In fact, data suggest that people with sleep apnea are twice as likely to have both nonfatal heart disease events and fatal heart attacks. Treatment for this sleep disorder is effective: Clinical studies have also shown that treating sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) reduces your heart disease risk to that of people without sleep apnea.
People with long-term snoring or sleep apnea risk developing an irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia. Researchers have found that people with sleep apnea are more likely to have episodes of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, than people without it or people whose apnea is treated with CPAP. Apnea may affect the conductive system of the heart, says Doghramji. Or it might be more common because obstructive sleep apnea appears to enlarge the left atrium over a long period of time.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is very common in people with sleep apnea, Doghramji says. People who have sleep apnea also may have GERD because of the disordered way in which their throat closes while air moves in and out during sleep, causing pressure changes that can suck the contents of their stomach back up into the esophagus. Both GERD and sleep apnea are related to being overweight and both seem to ease as people return to a normal weight.
Mental Health Issues
Sleep apnea can affect your mental well-being, leading to issues from crankiness from a lack of sleep to serious depression, Doghramji says. In fact, the link between sleep apnea, snoring, and depression is well established. A recent study of 74 snorers showed that the more daytime sleepiness people report, the greater their chances of also having mild depression or anxiety symptoms. Researchers are still untangling this relationship, but treating sleep apnea does seem to help ease depression.
Do you often wake up with a headache? It’s not just from your spouse complaining about your snoring. According to a recently published study of 268 people who were habitual snorers, researchers found a connection between frequent morning headaches and sleep disorders including insomnia and sleep apnea. Not surprisingly, snorers with frequent headaches reported a lower quality of life than those whose heads do not hurt.
Getting up to use the bathroom two or more times a night is a condition called nocturia. For some people, this includes a loss of bladder control. It is also linked with snoring in both men and women. Research suggests that men over the age of 55 who wake up often to urinate may have both benign prostate enlargement and obstructive sleep apnea. Another study showed a strong link between the two conditions.
Excess Weight Half of overweight people also have sleep apnea, partly because of the extra weight that collects around the neck, making it harder to keep breathing at night. The good news is that losing weight improves symptoms related to sleep disorders. If you're overweight and your spouse or other family members tease you about snoring, talk to your doctor about a referral to a sleep specialist. Whether your snoring is light and lovely, or orchestral, treatment will get you (and your family) back to sleep.
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