60% of Australians snore, and snoring is often the first warning sign of sleep apnoea, which can be quite serious if left untreated.
Both conditions present differently, but they are caused by the same thing; the soft palate at the back of your throat. When you sleep, the muscles in the soft palate relax and hang down into the airway. The passage of air causes the soft palate to vibrate, which creates the snoring sounds. Sleep apnoea occurs when the soft palate hangs down too far and blocks the airway completely. Normally, it will cause a person to wake up slightly so that the throat muscles can pick up the soft palate and make room to breathe again.
Sleep apnoea and snoring become more common as we age. Our tissues lose collagen and tend to become more lax. It appears on the face as we age and our skin sags a little bit, and it happens in the soft palate as well. Both conditions occur in young adults as well, but they can be more common and more severe as we get older.
Sleep apnoea deprives the brain of oxygen and impairs circulation. If left untreated, it can cause daytime fatigue and difficulty concentrating in the short term. It can lead to heart disease, lung problems, depression and anxiety in the long term.
How Do You Know If You Have Snoring Or Sleep Apnoea?
Snoring and sleep apnoea have common symptoms, including waking up without feeling rested, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating or even headaches and depression. The commonality of symptoms can make it difficult to tell the difference.
If sleep apnoea wakes you up at night, there is a chance that you don’t remember. It normally only wakes you up for a brief moment before you fall asleep again. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s always a good idea to speak to a medical professional, but you can also do some investigating ahead of time.
Partners can be a wealth of insight. They get a sense of your tossing and turning and, because they’re the ones listening to you snore at night, they know your typical sounds and sleep habits. They’re also likely to be affected by your snoring. “If a new patient has a partner, we recommend they bring their partner to the initial consultation,” says Nurse Jenny, who specialises in snoring and sleep apnoea treatments at Specialist Clinics of Australia.
If you’re single, you can try recording yourself at night. With smartphone apps like the Schedule Voice Recorder, you can schedule a start and stop time for audio recordings. When you listen to yourself snoring, it might give you an indication of whether your breathing stopped or became shallow at any point. A recording will also help medical professionals make a diagnosis if you decide to see someone about managing your snoring or sleep apnoea.
What Can You Do About Snoring And Sleep Apnoea?
There are a few treatment options and lifestyle adjustments that can help you manage your snoring and sleep apnoea. They may range from weight loss to laser treatments or, in more severe cases, wearing a cpap machine at night.
“We find a holistic approach works best,” says Nurse Jenny, “One that combines lifestyle adjustments with treatments and monitoring.” The best place to start is by speaking to a medical professional.