Do a search for “top annoying sounds” on Google and you probably won’t be too surprised to find “snoring” sits at the head of the list. But in addition to being one of the worst sounds in the world, it could also be a symptom of sleep apnea, one of the worst health conditions linked to obesity.
As derived from ancient Greek, apnea translates to “without breath.” When someone suffers from sleep apnea, he or she experiences partial or full obstruction of airflow between the mouth, nose, and lungs. In severe cases, sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing at several points throughout a sleep cycle. You read that right. Stop breathing.
So why does this happen? The mechanical explanation is that when the muscles in the throat relax, they naturally narrow the airways between the head and lungs (mainly in the throat). In people with sleep apnea, the muscles relax so much that oxygen is partially or completely obstructed. When this happens, the brain senses too much carbon dioxide in the blood stream and jerks the sleeper awake, usually with a snort or big gasp for air.
In addition to snoring and gasping during sleep, other symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daytime sleepiness, vision problems, dry mouth or sore throat in the morning, and morning headaches.
Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, but the increased weight is a leading cause for developing the condition. Obesity causes increased levels of inflammation and soft tissue in the throat, which both serve to constrict airways even further. That’s why most doctors and medical providers recommend weight loss and other lifestyle changes as a primary way to reverse or eliminate the effects of sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea can develop into much more serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and can even lead to death.
So if you have a bedtime partner whose snoring makes you want to run for the couch, or if you have noticed any of the telltale signs in yourself, we encourage you to ask a couple of important questions: 1) Could this be sleep apnea, and 2) if so, could it be due to carrying too much weight?
If you can answer yes to both of those questions, the good news is there is one very simple next step you can take: call your provider to schedule a weight screening appointment. Once you have your results, you’ll be able to work out a plan, and breathe easier knowing sleep apnea need not be a risk in your life.