While snoring itself may be harmless, it can also develop into, or be a symptom of, a more serious medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is caused by a narrow airway. That’s because air travels faster through a slender tube than through a broad one. This rapidly moving air causes the soft tissues of the throat (the tonsils, soft palate, and uvula) to vibrate. It is this vibration which is the sound of snoring. It’s like putting a flag in front of a fan: the faster the fan, the greater the flutter. Why is the airway narrow in snorers? Many things can take up space in the airway reducing its diameter. These can include large tonsils, a long soft palate or uvula, and, in people who are overweight, excessively flabby tissue. The most common cause of a narrowed airway is a tongue that relaxes too much during sleep and gets sucked back into the airway with each breath taken.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
When the tongue is sucked completely against the back of the throat, the airway is blocked and breathing stops. Once that happens, the harder the sleeper tries to breathe, the tighter the airway seal becomes. It’s like trying to drink through a straw that’s stuck in a lump of ice cream. The harder you suck, the flatter the straw becomes. The airway obstruction won’t clear until the brain’s oxygen level falls low enough to partially awaken the sleeper. The tongue then returns to a more normal position, and the airway seal is broken—usually with a loud gasp.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Severe Snoring
- Dry, sore throat and nasal passages in the morning upon awakening
- Multiple sudden awakenings during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Sleepiness leading to traffic accidents
- Restless muscles during sleep
- Impotence, and/or lack of interest in sex
- Impaired memory
- Personality changes
- Impaired concentration
- Poor job performance
- Sudden death from heart attack or stroke