Loud snoring may do more than keep others awake at night.
It could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common condition that can rob people of sound sleep and put them at higher risk for illness and accident.
Some 25 million Americans have OSA, according to the National Institutes of Health. Other symptoms include morning headaches, dry mouth, sore throat, and excessive irritability.
Not everyone who snores has OSA, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic, but they advise those who do to talk to their doctor.
OSA is a leading cause of sleep deprivation experienced by some 50 to 70 million Americans. A 2016 study by Rand Europe concluded that sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy an estimated $400 billion annually in medical costs, productivity losses, missed workdays, and workplace accidents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages employers to educate workers about OSA and the importance of good sleep. Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness center staff do just that for employees, health plan members, and walk-in visitors, according to Maggie Farrell, a health guide at the Connect location in the Hampden Marketplace, Enola.
OSA is a physical condition that causes a person’s airway to intermittently constrict or close altogether while sleeping. That creates the loud snoring and gasping that are telltale signs of the condition. In response, the body reflexively jars itself awake just enough to unblock the airway, but rarely enough for a person to recall being awakened.
These sleep disruptions can occur dozens of times per hour according to the American Sleep Association. The long-term effect is often a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, depression, and other conditions, according to the CDC.
The short-term effects can include daytime drowsiness, dulled reaction, and difficulty with focus and attention.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drowsy driving is a factor in about 6,000 fatal car crashes each year.
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School states lack of sleep was a factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez. Shift workers are at higher risk for sleep deprivation, experts say.
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP, is the gold standard for treating OSA. CPAP devices deliver carefully calibrated bursts of air through a mask worn each night. The air keeps the airway from closing, eliminating the need to snore and gasp.
Because excessive weight (a body mass index of 25 or more) can exacerbate OSA, experts agree that shedding pounds can help ease symptoms.
“Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of reducing risk for a host of serious illnesses,” said Farrell. “We rarely focus on obstructive sleep apnea as the main motivator for losing weight compared to things like Type 2 diabetes, but most people understand losing weight will help this condition.”