Sleep Apnea Vs Snoring: What’s The Difference?

Sleep apnea and snoring are two different things. Many people confuse regular snoring for sleep apnea, but they are not interchangeable.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a medical disorder that causes your breathing to stop while you’re asleep. The pauses in your breathing are called apneas and can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds and can occur several times throughout the night. There are three types of sleep apnea: central, mixed and obstructive. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the disorder. OSA occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked due to the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapsing and closing while you sleep. These airway blockages happen when your throat muscles become too relaxed, your airway is narrow, your tongue is too big, or there is extra fatty tissue in your throat.

What are the signs of sleep apnea?

This condition occurs while you are sleeping, so you need to look out for the following when you’re awake:

  • Waking up with a headache every day
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory loss

You can also ask your partner to look out for the following signs while you’re asleep:

  • Heavy snoring followed by silent pauses
  • Gasping for air
  • Choking

What is snoring?

Snoring is the vibration of the respiratory structures when they are obstructed. When air cannot move properly within the throat, our breathing is hindered and we make sounds. Snoring is caused by excess tissues near the uvula (the hanging ball at back of the throat), a long soft palate (the muscle fibres that open and close the nasal passages and the airway), an enlarged tongue or nasal obstructions (when you have a cold or allergies). If you snore it does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea.

What’s the difference between the two?

Snoring and sleep apnea are both caused by obstructed air movement. However, sleep apnea is an actual disorder that can lead to high blood pressure, low sex-drive and depression if left untreated. Sleep apnea can increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes, and make you more susceptible to injuries and motor vehicle accidents because you are overtired. Furthermore, sleep apnea is dangerous, while snoring is merely a nuisance to the person you sleep next to.

What treatments are available for sleep apnea?

There are many treatments available for sleep apnea that range from oral appliances you get at your dentist to weight loss.

  • CPAP machine: CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a machine that you wear to sleep. It consists of a mask that is connected to a device that keeps the throat open so that there are no pauses in breathing. CPAP machines can also stop snoring, but you can only wear one if you have sleep apnea. These machines are not suitable if you are simply a snorer and not someone whose breathing stops at regular intervals during the night.
  • Weight loss: It’s been proven that being overweight can lead to sleep apnea. Through exercise and healthy diet, you can improve your sleeping and reduce the number of apnea episodes you have per night.
  • Smoking cessation: Quitting smoking is an ideal way to combat sleep apnea. When you smoke, your throat becomes dry causing you to cough while you sleep, leading to pauses in your breathing.
  • Nasal strips: These are special strips designed to open the nasal passages while you sleep. You can get these at your local drugstore. Nasal strips will curb snoring but they will not cure you of sleep apnea and should be used in conjunction with other treatments.
  • Oral appliance therapy: Your dentist will fit you for a specially designed mouthguard that you will wear to sleep. This appliance keeps your airways unobstructed so you do not have pauses in your breathing. Oral appliance therapy is also used to treat snoring.
  • Avoidance of alcohol: Alcohol can make the muscles in your throat more relaxed than they should be which can cause airway obstructions. Moreover, when you consume alcohol before bed, it can trick your brain into pausing your breathing even further because it won’t register a lack of oxygen in your body.
  • Keeping a sleep schedule: The more tired you are, the better chances you have of experiencing pauses in your breathing while you sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day encourages your body to feel more rested.
  • Side sleeping: When you sleep on your back, gravity pulls on the uvula leading the airway to become narrow. In same cases, sleeping on your back can cause the airway to collapse completely leaving you with sleep apnea. Many people with sleep apnea are able to train themselves to sleep on their sides by propping themselves up with pillows. Each night you remove one of the pillows until you are fully able to sleep on your side.

If left untreated sleep apnea is very dangerous. Snoring, on the other hand, can be a sign of sleep apnea. Please contact Dawson Dental for more information about oral appliance therapy and to book an appointment.