One of the causes of snoring is the common disorder called “sleep apnea”. Literally “apnea” means no breath. It is a cessation of breathing while you sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This condition is caused by the air passages from the nose and throat being blocked during sleep. This blockage frequently causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses. These breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and can occur as often as twenty to thirty times per hour. This results in, among other things, fits of snoring.
Since it happens during sleep most people who have sleep apnea don’t even know it unless they are informed about it by someone sleeping within earshot of them.
Here’s what happens:
Without sleep apnea the airway from your nose and mouth remain open while you sleep. The airway includes your nose, mouth, throat and windpipe. The open airway allows a free flow of oxygen into your lungs and exhalation of carbon dioxide from your lungs while you sleep. With sleep apnea this airway can become smaller or collapse completely for a short period of time. This makes it harder for fresh air to flow into your lungs and carbon dioxide to be exhaled. Air squeezing through the airway can cause a vibration that results in the sound of snoring.
When the airway becomes completely blocked, allowing no airflow this is called apnea. With the decrease in airflow caused by the partial or complete collapse of your airway there is a decrease in the blood oxygen going to your brain. This sends a signal to the brain to wake up and open the airway. Naturally this causes a disruption of sleep as the person partially or completely awakens. You can sometimes hear a person with sleep apnea gasp when their airway is suddenly opened after a period of apnea. Once the episode of sleep apnea is over the individual returns to normal sleep until the next episode of breathing disruption. You can see how this cycle prevents the sufferer from getting a complete and restful night’s sleep.
When we normally think of snoring we tend to think only in terms of the general disruption this causes to our sleep and the sleep of others. This alone would be enough of a reason to do something about it. However obstructive sleep apnea has further, more serious implications and potential effects on health. The sufferer of sleep apnea is at greater risk of heart failure, irregular heart rhythm and high blood pressure. The lack of sleep caused to the individual with sleep apnea and his or her family can create other problems in life associated with insufficient rest.
The great news is that your dentist can help you discover if your snoring is related to obstructive sleep apnea. If so, he or she can fit you with a device you wear at night which positions your jaw in a manner where the space in your airway increases thereby preventing the soft tissue vibration that causes snoring.