Is There a Difference between Sleep Apnea and Snoring?

October 5, 2021

Around 37 million Americans are expected to snore habitually. However, only 59 percent of them know that they snore. Similarly, one in 15 adults in the US is expected to have sleep apnea, but 80 percent of them go undiagnosed and untreated. Because these events often take place while an individual is asleep, it can be challenging—or even impossible—for someone to realize they have a hard time breathing at night.

Common misconceptions can make it especially difficult to identify whether or not you struggle with a sleep disorder. For example, one misconception about sleep apnea is that if you snore, you must have sleep apnea. This is simply not true: While snoring certainly is a frequent symptom of the disorder, nearly half of the population snores habitually, and many of them do not have a form of sleep apnea.

So, what exactly is the difference between sleep apnea and snoring? Keep reading to learn all about what snoring is and how to tell if it may be a sign of something more serious like sleep apnea.

What is snoring?

Snoring describes the hoarse sound that occurs when air causes the relaxed tissues in your throat to vibrate as you breathe. This sound can be anywhere from a soft whistling noise to a full-on rumble, although louder forms of snoring are most commonly noticed by snorers or their partners. Snoring is common, and it can affect anyone. However, men tend to snore more often than women, and it tends to get worse with age or weight gain.

There are a number of things that can cause someone to snore, including the following:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Irregularly shaped bones in the face
  • Swelling of the tonsils and adenoids
  • Sleeping pill use
  • Smoking
  • Muscular weakness that occurs due to age
  • Congestion due to a cold or allergies

While these causes have an influence on snoring, it could also be caused by a more serious condition such as obstructive sleep apnea. Random bursts of snoring are normal and typically aren’t a sign of a bigger problem; however, if you snore regularly and loudly, it’s best to let your doctor know.

How does snoring affect sleep quality?

Not only can snoring impact the quality of sleep your partner gets every night if it keeps them awake, but it can also cause you to sleep poorly. This is especially true if your snoring is a sign of sleep apnea. For example, snoring due to sleep apnea can cause chronic health concerns, including the following:

  • Frequent waking from sleep, whether you are aware of it or not
  • Light sleeping, which interferes with a healthy pattern of sleep
  • Poor nights of sleep, which can interfere with your quality of life and impact daily functioning
  • Added strain to your heart, including the possibility of raised blood pressure and higher risk of stroke and heart attack

So, while snoring itself may not directly impact the quality of your sleep, if it’s a sign of a more serious condition like sleep apnea, it can impact every area of your health.

How do you know if your snoring is a sign of sleep apnea?

If you regularly snore loudly at night and think it may be a sign of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, reach out to your doctor. Because not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores, reaching out to a medical professional can help you sort through your concerns and settle on a conclusion. Taking a sleep test may be necessary in order to identify the true cause of your symptoms.

Besides loud, recurrent snoring, the following are also signs of sleep apnea:

  • Choking or gasping during sleep, usually noticed by a partner
  • Fatigue or excessive daytime sleepiness despite getting a full night of sleep
  • Waking with a headache or sore throat regularly
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks

On top of these symptoms, there are a few warning signs that may make you more likely to develop sleep apnea. If you have several of the following risk factors, you are much more likely to develop the sleep disorder:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • A large neck circumference
  • A small lower jaw
  • Nasal congestion

If you snore and possess some of these characteristics, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor about your concerns. If sleep apnea goes untreated for a long period of time, it can take a significant toll on your health.

How can you treat sleep apnea and stop snoring?

In many cases treating sleep apnea improves snoring. Before getting started on medical treatment for OSA, your doctor will likely recommend a few lifestyle changes to improve snoring. This could include losing weight, cutting out alcohol close to bedtime, avoiding sleeping on your back, following a healthier bedtime routine, and treating congestion.

If your snoring is due to OSA, your treatment plan could include a combination of lifestyle changes accompanied by one or more of the following:

  • Oral appliances
  • CPAP
  • BiPAP
  • Surgery
  • Upper Airway Stimulation

While CPAP is the most common and consistent form of sleep apnea treatment, there are options for people who would prefer trying a different therapy. Your doctor will work with you to ensure you have the best treatment plan for you and your lifestyle.

Every case of snoring isn’t indicative of OSA; however, it’s important to be able to identify the warning signs and symptoms in case it is something to be concerned about.