We’ve all heard it, and we’ve probably all done it from time to time! Everyone from obese older men to beautiful supermodels, and even their doggies—they all can snore. Sometimes it’s soft, rhythmic, and dare I say cute. For a while. Then the bad thoughts creep in…
Sometimes, though, it’s cataclysmic; loud, sonorous, teeth-rattling bass tones that test your mercy and threaten life and limb—for the snorer.
Because it’s so common, many people shrug it off as benign. And in many cases, except for the risk of being flayed by your homicidal partner, it is. And often it’s caused by too much alcohol, being overweight, sleeping on your back, illnesses like colds and sinus congestion, or certain medications like narcotics. But in many cases, it is a warning sign of a serious medical condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition in which you actually stop breathing. For a moment. Or for a long moment. There is snoring, then silence, often followed by gasping, bolting up, and feeling your heart pounding madly. It can be caused by throat muscles relaxing and blocking or narrowing the flow of air to the lungs.
There is also a less common form called Central Sleep Apnea, which doesn’t cause airway blockage, but instead the signals are not sent from your brain to your breathing muscles. This is not the topic of this article and requires different levels of treatment.
If you snore, wake up gasping for breath, have headaches in the morning, or sluggishness during the day, you should be evaluated for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Your primary care doctor will check for obvious causes like deviated septum, obesity, or excess medication or alcohol use and recommend treating these. In addition, you will be referred for sleep studies to determine your sleep pattern and study whether sleep apnea occurs.
The most common treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. This device makes sure that the airway in the back of your throat stays open by keeping higher air pressure there. Yes, you will look and sound like a cross between Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Batman’s Bane. It’s not sexy, but you can have your conjugal visit before you strap in.
In some cases, surgery is recommended, either to remove excess tissue on the back of the palate or throat, or occasionally to place a nerve stimulator. These are less common treatments.
In some mild cases of sleep apnea, especially non-central ones, or in those who can’t tolerate the CPAP machine, a variety of mouth guards are available. These basically pull your lower jaw forward, and your tongue in some models, keeping your airway open all the time. This reduces the turbulent airflow causing the snoring, and can prevent obstruction and apnea.
Manopause.com co-founder Mike Essrig, who is still married after 35 years despite his history of nightly moose-calls, tried many of the mouth guards on the market, finding fault with most of them. They were uncomfortable, got stinky fast, and needed frequent replacement. For the last 18 months, he has been using a mouth guard from Zyppah (HappyZ spelled backwards—cute, no?) and now enjoys restful sleep with no stank next to his grateful wife.
I know it works, because we have shared many hotel rooms on our business trips, and he’s so quiet, I occasionally put a mirror under his nose to check for that life-proving condensation! Oops, he probably didn’t know that.
Take snoring seriously. The negative consequences of undiagnosed and untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea include heart enlargement and failure, pulmonary hypertension (affects blood flow to lungs), and sadly death. See your doctor if you have symptoms.
And as some wise individual once said:
“If your wife tells you that you snore, just know that she has carefully weighed the pros and cons of letting you live.”