Here’s when you should worry about your snoring

Whether it was a sibling, your college roommate, a travel companion or your spouse, everyone has probably had to sleep close to someone who snores

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Sleepeducation.org defines snoring as the "often loud or harsh sound that can occur as you sleep." The average person would probably compare it to the sound of sawing wood or a running lawnmower.

No matter how you define it, snoring is a common habit for both men and women. It's typically most common for men, but for any person, your chances of snoring start to increase as you get older. Although this problem is usually just mildly annoying (or funny), there are times when snoring can be related to a serious condition called sleep apnea.

>> Related: 5 common myths about sleep that can damage your health

Why people snore

Before you can understand sleep apnea, it's important to dig deeper into why people snore. WebMD says that people snore when there's a physical obstruction interrupting the flow of air through the mouth and nose. There are four causes for this:

  1. Blocked nasal passages – Mucous or physical growths or changes in your nasal cavity can change the flow of air through your system.
  2. Bulky throat tissue – If you're slightly overweight or if you have large tonsils, you're more likely to snore.
  3. Poor muscle tone – If the muscles in your throat or tongue are too relaxed, they can collapse and get in the way as air is passing through. As you get older, these muscles start to relax more.
  4. Long soft plate and/or uvula – This tissue can narrow the opening from your nose to your throat. It dangles in the back of your mouth and, when they bump against each other, it can block your airway, which causes snoring.

While snoring is completely normal, there are times to pay extra attention to your snoring, according to medical experts.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

If your snoring is louder than normal, you wake up feeling tired and your breathing stops and starts throughout the night, it's possible you might have a form of sleep apnea.

There are three kinds of sleep apnea. Aurora Health Care defines obstructive sleep apnea as "a condition where people experience brief pauses of breathing during sleep, causing a drop in oxygen levels." There is also central sleep apnea, which happens when your brain doesn't send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing, and complex sleep apnea syndrome, which is a combination of the two.

You are most likely to suffer from sleep apnea if you're overweight, have small airways or large tonsils, or if you have a family history of sleep apnea. In addition, just like with basic snoring, men suffer from this condition more than others.

Myth: Alcohol can help 

But what are the risks of sleep apnea? According to the Mayo Clinic, some risks related to this illness include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and liver problems. Chronic lack of sleep related to sleep apnea can even lead to mental health issues ranging from irritability to depression.

Outside of those risks, sleep apnea can also be related to:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Risk of stroke
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches

If you're worried about any of these risks, your doctor would be the best resource to give you advice about your health.

How to treat your snoring

Whether you're concerned about sleep apnea or just looking to be more considerate of those who sleep close to you, there are lots of steps you can take to slow down your snoring. Here are some tips from Cigna:

  1. If you're overweight, try starting a weight loss routine.
  2. Instead of sleeping on your back, sleep on your side.
  3. Cut back on any use of alcohol or sedatives before bed.
  4. If you're a smoker, stop smoking.
  5. If you suffer from nasal congestion, try using a decongestant or nasal spray before bed.

If those solutions don't work, you could also take things a step further by using tools. One option is a nasal strip or some other device that attaches to the outside of your nose to help you breathe easier. There are also mouth guards that go inside your mouth and push your tongue and jaw forward to make more room for air to flow.

Again, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your snoring or if you feel you're at risk for sleep apnea.

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