Snoring is the sound emitted from the upper airway of your throat during sleep and comes from loose, relaxed tissues that vibrate while breathing. The sound emitted may come from the soft palate, tongue or both. Snoring is an indication that there is resistance through the airway. The sound intensity varies from person to person and is commonly described as a nuisance by a bed partner. Snoring may be an indicator of a serious health condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Approximately one out of every two heavy snorers will develop this condition. Although snoring is an indicator for sleep apnea, it is not necessarily experienced by all patients with this disorder.
When the muscles in the throat and tongue relax during sleep, stoppages in breathing can result, potentially blocking the airway. The bed partner often can identify pauses in breathing or a sudden silence or cessation of snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when repetitive stoppages in breathing (apneas or hypopneas) occur at a frequency of more than 5 to 10 per hour of sleep. Snoring, pauses in breathing, gasping or snorts are strong indications of airway obstruction in sleep, but the severity of snoring is a poor predictor of the actual severity of obstructive breathing during sleep.
Obstructive breathing in sleep causes the brain to either wake up or go to a lighter level of sleep to re-open the airway and resume breathing. Obstructive apneas during sleep can happen from a few times to hundreds of times each night and ranging from as short as 10 seconds to longer than 2 minutes in duration for each event in some patients. Most patients are unaware of their own snoring and rely on a bed partner or family member to inform them of it, even when the snoring is very loud in severity. Your apnea may be mild or severe, depending on the frequency of breathing stoppages or the consequences of these stoppages such as poor quality of sleep or drops in the blood oxygen levels. Excessive daytime sleepiness is one of the most common symptoms experienced by sleep apnea patients because of the repetitive arousals experienced during sleep to re-establish a normal or open airway.