Do you or someone in your family snore? While snoring may be embarrassing for the snorer or annoying for other people, it doesn't usually cause serious problems – but more severe snoring can affect physical and mental health if it disturbs your sleep or it's a symptom of an underlying problem such as obstructive sleep apnoea.
If you're worried about the effects of snoring, you should talk to a qualified health professional. This includes dentists who work with sleep specialists to diagnose snoring problems and can recommend effective treatments to help you sleep more soundly.
Why do I snore?
Snoring is very common, with an estimated 20 to 25 percent of people thought to be habitual snorers and many more snoring occasionally. Snoring happens when tissues in the airway behind the nose vibrate as air passes over them, making a sound as you breathe. Snoring may be quiet and barely noticeable or loud and disruptive to sleep.
Snoring can affect people of all ages, including children, but it's most common in males aged 30 to 65. Your risk factor for snoring will also be higher if:
- you're above a healthy weight
- you sleep on your back
- you have high blood pressure
- you have a small jaw
- you have nasal congestion or a sinus problem
- you consume alcohol or sleeping tablets
- you're pregnant or in menopause
Loud or disruptive snoring may sometimes be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea, another sleep disorder or a medical condition, so it's important to see a professional if you're concerned about how snoring may be affecting your health.
What is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
If loud snoring is accompanied by choking or gasping for air that wakes you up frequently in the night, you may have obstructive sleep apnoea. OSA happens when the air passages close during sleep, which interrupts normal breathing and forces a stronger breath to open the airway. This may happen multiple times every night.
The risk factors for obstructive sleep apnoea are similar to snoring, with some differences. You are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea if:
- you're middle aged or older
- you're overweight, as fat deposits may block the upper airway
- you have a narrow throat, cleft lip or palate or a small jaw that can affect breathing
- you have large tonsils or adenoids (particularly for children)
- you have certain medical or genetic conditions, such as thyroid issues
- you have a family history of sleep apnoea
- you drink alcohol in the evening, which relaxes the throat muscles and affects breathing responses
- you take sleeping tablets, sedatives or certain medications
Like snoring, sleep apnoea has different levels of severity. A healthy sleep is one that's interrupted less than 5 times per hour. If you have mild OSA, your breathing may be interrupted 5 to 15 times every hour. More than 30 times per hour is considered severe OSA, with some people waking up hundreds of times every night in the most serious cases.
Effects of snoring and sleep apnoea on health
Getting a good night's sleep is important for your health. Waking up multiple times in the night can prevent you from getting the deep sleep your body and mind need to heal and recharge. The more often your sleep is interrupted, the worse the effects of sleep deprivation can be. These effects may include:
Reduced cognitive performance
Poor quality sleep can leave you feeling tired and unrefreshed. You may struggle to stay awake as the day goes on and this could affect your concentration, memory and ability to think clearly. This can impact on academic, athletic and job performance, as well as quality of life.
Sleep loss often leaves the sufferer feeling grumpy, irritable or short tempered. Sleep apnoea may also reduce interest in sex or lead to impotence in men. More severe sleep apnoea is also linked with a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
Behaviour and development concerns
Children and adolescents who are affected by sleep apnoea or other sleep disorders may feel tired during the day, which can affect their concentration and cause their school performance to suffer. They may be more likely to develop behavioural issues or bed wetting in some cases.
Being overweight increases your risk of developing sleep apnoea. Unfortunately, having sleep apnoea also makes it harder to lose weight, so it can be a vicious cycle. Sleep interruptions prevent the body from burning calories efficiently and can also release hormones that cause cravings.
Sleep is important for healing and repairing the body, particularly the cardiovascular system and blood vessels. Sleep interruptions and other effects of untreated sleep apnoea are linked with an increased risk of several health problems, including:
- heart disease and heart attacks
- high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome
- insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- kidney disease
- reduced immune function
- worsening symptoms of asthma and other breathing disorders
- complications with medications, surgery or general anaesthesia
Injury and death
Not getting a good quality sleep affects your concentration and reaction times and can be comparable to being under the influence of alcohol. Driving, operating machinery and performing other risky activities while you're tired and fatigued more than doubles the risk of accidents happening. The worse your sleep, the greater the risk.
Treatments for snoring
If you want to stop snoring, talking to a dentist can be a good start. Dentists are trained and experienced in examining the mouth for signs of abnormalities, and if they spot a possible physical cause for your snoring they could recommend treatments. For other cases, they may refer you to a sleep specialist or other suitably qualified health professional.
Treatments and recommendations to reduce the severity of snoring can include:
- Sleeping on your side rather than your back
- Losing weight
- Avoiding alcohol and sleeping tablets
- Treating nasal congestion or other underlying conditions
- Improving the air quality of your bedroom
Treatments for sleep apnoea
Some dentists can also help with sleep apnoea treatments. This may be done in partnership with a sleep physician who may need to complete an overnight sleep study to observe your symptoms. Once the likely cause and severity of your sleep apnoea are understood, they will be able to recommend suitable treatments. These may include:
If you have mild sleep apnoea, managing the risk factors that are in your control is sometimes all that's needed to reduce its effects and help you to sleep more soundly. Depending on what may be causing OSA, your dentist or doctor may recommend:
- sleeping on your side rather than your back – a special pillow or wedge can help
- losing weight (only if you're overweight)
- avoiding or cutting down on alcohol in the evening
- not taking sleeping tablets
- treating nasal congestion
If sleep apnoea is related to another health condition, treating this condition could reduce its effects. You should also talk to your doctor if medication you're taking may be contributing to sleep apnoea.
Mandibular advancement splint (MAS)
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnoea, your dentist may recommend wearing a therapeutic device called a mandibular advancement splint (MAS) while you sleep. This is custom made to fit over your teeth, similar to a mouthguard, and works by holding your jaw slightly open to prevent the airway from closing and interrupting your breathing.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
For moderate to severe sleep apnoea, a CPAP machine may be effective at holding the airway open and preventing breathing interruptions. This involves wearing a face mask over your mouth and nose connected to an air pump that feeds a continuous supply of pressurised air into your lungs.
Some people find CPAP machines uncomfortable and the noise they produce can be disturbing to sleep, so you should talk to your dentist to find out whether an oral appliance may be an alternative.
Removing the tonsils and adenoids may be effective for children with obstructive sleep apnoea and other breathing disorders, especially those with more severe symptoms. However, as mild sleep apnoea in children often resolves itself over time, in some cases a doctor may recommend waiting up to 6 months before making a decision about surgery to see if their symptoms improve.
If other sleep apnoea treatment is not effective, oral surgery to reshape the soft palate or base of the tongue may be recommended. However, surgery is not always effective or it may only be a short term solution before symptoms return.
All surgical procedures carry risk, so it's important to choose a qualified and experienced surgeon to lower these risks. They will make sure you understand what the possible complications and side effects are so you can make an informed decision about the best treatment for you.
Help for snoring and sleep apnoea in Sydney CBD
Our experienced dentists at Sydney CBD Dental work with sleep physicians to diagnose and treat obstructive sleep apnoea and other snoring and breathing difficulties. We can discuss your symptoms and treatment options or we may refer you to a specialist for an overnight sleep study.
Call us today on (02) 9232 3900 to find out more about how we can help or book a consultation at our dental clinic at 300 George Street.
Better Health Channel. Snoring [Online] 2014 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/snoring
Better Health Channel. Sleep apnoea [Online] 2019 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-apnoea
Healthdirect. Sleep apnoea [Online] 2020 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep-apnoea
Sleep Foundation. Is Snoring Harmless? [Online] 2020 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/is-snoring-harmless