Your partner isn’t the only one who suffers when you snore. Nights spent sawing logs have been associated with health risks ranging from heart disease and stroke to memory loss and erectile dysfunction.
Snoring is caused when structures inside the throat — either the soft palate on the back of the roof of the mouth or the uvula, the piece of flesh dangling at the back of the throat — flutter, according to Eric J. Kezirian, MD, MPH and professor of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California. The resulting noise could be a wake-up call.
Studies show habitual snoring is associated with these five health problems:
1. SLEEP APNEA
Snoring is a major symptom of sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by multiple pauses in breathing.
With sleep apnea, the airway collapses or gets blocked; the air that passes through the narrowed airway causes loud snoring. Sleep apnea is linked to other health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart attack and diabetes.
Kezirian calls sleep apnea, “a serious condition,” and says, “if you snore consistently, especially if others have noticed that you seem to hold your breath or gasp for air, you should discuss it with your doctor.”
2. HEART DISEASE AND STROKE
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital studied snorers between the ages of 18–50 and found an increased thickening of the carotid arteries, which could be a warning sign for atherosclerosis. Researchers believe the vibrations of snoring cause inflammation of the arteries.
Lead researcher Robert Deeb, MD, said in a statement, “Snoring is more than a bedtime annoyance and it shouldn’t be ignored. Patients need to seek treatment in the same way they would if they had … other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
3. MEMORY LOSS
A 2015 study published in the journal Neurology found those between the ages of 55–90, who had sleep breathing problems like snoring and sleep apnea, were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment an average of 10 years earlier than those who did not snore. Snoring and sleep apnea also led to earlier diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease.
Kezirian notes, “There are a number of potential mechanisms, but one key seems to be the drops in oxygen levels that can occur in patients who not only snore but also have obstructive sleep apnea that involves blockage of breathing.”
Snoring can also affect your mental health. Australian researchers found that between 32–53% of patients who snored also had depressive symptoms, a number that’s significantly greater than the national average.
“In my own clinical experience, I have seen great improvements in mood when we are able to treat the sleep disturbances [like snoring] associated with sleep apnea,” says Daniel Root MD, medical director at Oregon Sleep Associates.
5. SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION
Men who snore as a symptom of sleep apnea may have trouble getting and maintaining erections, according to researchers at the University of Rome. In fact, up to 60% of men with sleep apnea also have erectile dysfunction.
“The blood vessels involved in erections and sexual function are small and more vulnerable than the bigger arteries like those in the heart,” Root explains. For this reason, the penile blood flow commonly suffers the consequences first, and then 5–10 years later, more larger vessel disease may appear.”
No one is immune to occasional snoring: A sinus infection or cold, different sleep position or restless slumber can all cause nocturnal rumblings. Habitual snoring is more common in men, those who are overweight, obese and back sleepers.
If snoring is chronic, Kezirian suggests talking to a healthcare professional.
“There are a wide range of treatment options for both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea,” he says, including sleeping on your side and avoiding alcohol within three hours of bedtime to special mouthpieces and continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machines. The best way to know what might be right for you is to discuss the full range of options with an expert.
GEAR UP FOR SLEEP AND RECOVERY