What’s the difference between snoring and sleep apnea?

Both snoring and sleep apnea can seriously affect the quality of your sleep, but there are notable differences between the two. Snoring happens when a noise occurs as you take a breath in whilst asleep. This noise comes about because the muscles lining the airway, the soft tissue at the back of the throat, and the tongue muscles, relax leading to a narrowing of the airway. The air then moves faster through this narrowed airway, causing the tissues to vibrate against each other. This is what makes that rather annoying snoring/rattling round. This article explains the causes of snoring in more detail.

Snoring occurs in both adults and children, although in younger children it’s most likely due to having a cold or enlarged adenoids or tonsils. Both children and adults who are overweight tend to snore more because of an increased amount of fatty tissue in the throat and neck area which narrows the airway.

Habitual or very loud snoring can ruin the sleep of both the snorer and their sleeping partner. It is likely to also lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness resulting in serious health problems. Smooth, breathing, totally unobstructed, is the key to a good night’s rest.

So what’s sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea – often referred to as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA – is when the soft tissue in the throat repeatedly collapses, blocking the airway during a person’s sleep. This temporary blockage means a complete pause in breathing which can last for anything up to a whole minute (although it’s most likely to be around ten seconds). It then suddenly ‘unblocks’ which can lead to the snorer jolting awake with a loud snore, only for the cycle to continue. When apnea occurs, they often make a snorting, choking or gasping sound as the airway reopens.

Sleep apnea is more serious than simple snoring and is something that should be discussed with your doctor. It is more likely to occur in people aged over 40, especially if they are overweight. Common signs of the condition include restless sleep, chronic daytime sleepiness, temporary stoppage of breathing, gasping for breath and loud snoring. During the day, suffers are likely to experience headaches and a general difficulty in concentrating.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce both sleep apnea and general snoring by making a few behavioural changes whilst you’re awake. Losing weight can make snoring less severe, as can avoiding certain medication, muscle relaxers, tobacco and alcohol. Changing the position you sleep in can help too; avoid sleeping on your back as sleeping on your stomach or side puts less pressure on your airway.

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