Get Some Sleep: No snoring is safe
December 14th, 2010
08:20 AM ET

Get Some Sleep: No snoring is safe

Every Christmas Eve it’s the same story: Dad has too much eggnog and too much turkey and the next thing we know, there he is in front of the fire, snoring like a freight train. We use to always have a chuckle at his expense before nudging him awake and urging him up to bed.

Well, the laughing stopped a long time ago because as a sleep physician I have learned that snoring can be a serious sign of sleep apnea and sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. Sleep apnea, as I think most people know, is a collapse of the upper airway during sleep that leads to frequent mini-awakenings of which the patient is rarely aware. It often causes a lowering of the oxygen levels.

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We use to think that if people snored, but they tested negative for sleep apnea, then this was mostly a nuisance for the bed partner. We called this “benign” or “primary” snoring and we rarely treated it. That is all starting to change.

Now there is more than one study showing that snoring alone (without sleep apnea) increases the risk of serious disorders such as stroke and metabolic syndrome. This is important news because snoring is so common and so treatable. One large study of middle -aged men and women found that roughly 45 percent of men and 30 percent of women were habitual snorers. Occasional snoring is virtually universal.

An important study, published in the December issue of the journal SLEEP, gives new evidence for snoring as an independent risk factor for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of abnormalities that includes high blood pressure (130/85 mmHg or higher), increased fasting glucose level (100 mg/dl or higher), increased triglycerides (150 mg/dl or higher), decreased HDL levels (less than 40 mg/dl for men, less than 50 mg/dl for women) and increase abdominal obesity (waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men and greater than 35 inches for women. If people have more than three of these five abnormalities, then they are said to have the metabolic syndrome which then increases their risk of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

There is controversy about whether this is really a “syndrome.” There is also some disagreement about how to define it, but the one I give here is from The National Cholesterol Education Program and is the most commonly used.

Regardless of whether this is really a syndrome, we know that the individual disorders have serious health consequences, so this study showing that loud, habitual snorers have nearly triple the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome is quite significant from a public health perspective.

Another interesting study, also published in SLEEP in 2008, showed that people who displayed loud snoring throughout the night during a sleep test were 10 times more likely to have carotid atherosclerosis, which means plague buildup in the carotid arteries of their neck. This is a major risk factor for stroke.

Studies such as these are changing how I advise patients who have sleep studies that are negative for sleep apnea. I now always discuss, in my report and with my patients, whether they had loud, steady snoring. If they did, I recommend treatment, usually with an oral appliance, sometimes with CPAP.

The take-home message? Snoring is not benign even in the absence of frank sleep apnea. All adults (and kids too) should be screened for snoring by their primary care doctors. Keep in mind that overindulging in egg nog and other alcoholic beverages increase the likelihood of snoring and sleep apnea. (Stay tuned for next week’s blog on how alcohol affects your sleep.) Most importantly, snoring should no longer be seen as a joking matter or as just an annoyance to the bed partner. If friends or family members snore, show you care and urge them to seek a medical evaluation. You’ll sleep better knowing that you helped improve the health of someone you love.

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She’ll blog on Tuesdays on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

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soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. William Collins

    I have been using a Bi-PAP since 1998. At the time of my testing I quit breathing 92 times in the first 3 hours. After I picked up my machine I at first I would only use it for a couple of hours a night, but the next day I felt like a new man. After a couple of months I was using it all night, and people, sleep doesn't get any better. My machine and I (I am on my third, as 2 of them we worn out) go every where together. I cannot rest without it. I also have switched to a face mask because of comfort. My blood pressure stabilized after getting my sleeping buddy (my bi-pap), and I am much easier to live with.

    December 14, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Chris

    My brother snored for years. He and his wife thought nothing about it–used ear plugs at night, etc. My brother died in his sleep six and a half years ago. I wish he went to a sleep clinic and got diagnosed. I miss him terribly.

    December 14, 2010 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Clay

    looks like my dog is F U * KED

    December 14, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Eric

    OMG...where to begin????

    1. For some, there is no cure to OSA other than CPAP. Taping your mouth with duct tape, putting your CPAP in the corner and hoping it goes away, trying an oral appliance without proper spO2 testing....none of these things are advisable and will not address the underlying problem. This is one of those conditions that you can't just play doctor with.

    2. For those who think you don't have it: Losing weight and eating right? Sure! It's a great idea for anyone. But I was 42 when diagnosed and 5'8" and 165lbs of solid martial arts muscle and guess what? Severe OSA. It can happen to anyone and guess what? I wasn't a snorer. So only people on here who can legitimately judge are those with the courage to get a sleep study done. If you come out negative, then you're free to make fun of the genetics we have or the life choices we've made. 🙂

    3. For those of you that have it: Quit whining!! Keep pestering your Sleep Doc until you find the right mask and the right unit. This is YOUR life. Do you think that the doc or his/her staff give a crap about you after 5pm? Exactly....Take control of your health, keep trying masks or switch docs. Be patient and remember that that ugly darth vader mask is "life therapy." In the case of men, it's like Viagra or 'roids since low oxygen levels are a cause of ED and low testosterone. Trust me....

    4. Yeah, the CPAP sucks. I'm single and you can imagine what it's done to my dating life. But such is life. I feel like a million bucks now, although I still wrestle with the mask from time to time. On top of that, I travel over 80K miles a year....WITH the machine and mask. You just have to do what needs to be done.

    5. For some people, sleep is restorative. For others like me, sleep accelerates death.

    6. Finally, for ignorant out there: metabolic syndrome, ED, stroke, and the rest of the terrible things that happen to many people are oftentimes due to sleep apnea (not the snoring itself, dude....I mean the low oxygen levels and the failure to enter certain sleep phases that result from the airway being blocked). General medicine is still in the stone age and hasn't come to terms with the idea that patients need sleep studies to determine if OSA contributes to the underlying causes of these conditions.

    December 14, 2010 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Logic

    Pretty much any activity outside of the womb is not safe....

    December 14, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. shawna

    I sometimes snore at night. Discovered if I work out, I get a better night sleep, my weight goes down, and apparently so does my snoring. Also used to be really tired during the day until I started using breathe right strips. Now I'm much more awake during the day. I also sleep with my upper half elevated.

    December 14, 2010 at 19:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. lucacole

    I love the free sample site "123 Get Samples" search online to find their official website, that's where i get most of my samples from!!! yay i love free stuff.

    December 15, 2010 at 02:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. guest

    I work at a sleep center in the city and I see cases like this 6days a week. Patients like JDT who says they rather use their CPAP to blow air into their childrens pool... must not have had a good sleep doctor and the proper care. Patients that hated their CPAP machine and say they couldnt tolerate it just needed a little extra T.L.C and close follow ups. We have patients who LOVE their CPAP now... and can't sleep without it. I even had a wife come in and thank us now she doesnt have to hear the load snoring throughout her house. 🙂
    Now as for having surgery done... NO. I heard multipule people do that and it works for a year or so.. but back to the same thing. SNORING.
    Its funny like Dr Shives says... when holidays come around and everyones has a few drinks thats when you hear the snoring the most. Do your research and you will know snoring is a very serious manner. Some of you very immature writers who think this is a joke.... if you wont even take advice from a doctor, I feel sorry for your health.
    Dr. Shives you are great and what you do and looking toward your next one. 🙂

    December 15, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 15, 2010 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Molly

    Well, I can't say that I think all snoring is a sign of a serious health problem, but it somewhat puts things in perspective. I was just visiting a good friend of mine this weekend and slept in her room with her. She has snored as long as I've known her and been teased endlessly by her friends about it (she is in her early twenties, not overweight, and has no other chronic health problems that I know of). This weekend, I noticed that she would fall into a deep sleep pretty quickly and start snoring within minutes. Several times during the night, she would seem to stop breathing for a few seconds to closer to a minute at a time, only to snort loudly and then begin snoring really rapidly (she also would make a sort of moaning noise at times, like she was in a bad dream). One of our other friends told me that she worried she might have sleep apnea, and while I didn't think so at first, after this weekend made me question that. Thoughts, anyone??

    December 17, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Di

      That sounds like sleep apnea – and anyone can have that problem. A friend of mine in college had a deviated septum which caused it. Minor surgery fixed that.

      December 17, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse |
  11. Elias

    I went to http://www.SleepTest.com and took their sleep test. I found out that I was a candidate for apnea. I am about to get a cpap mask and I am excited to sleep through the night.

    December 19, 2010 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. HPN

    Yes a lot of people suffer from this and will continue to as long as the Medical Mafia holds the prescription pen to get a cpap machine. Get this I called and asked about sleep tests, I got a range from $400 from an over the net home test, to $3,500 per test with two test required at my local hospital. Medical people thing everyone has jam up insurance or a money tree. So let me think about this now, spend $7000 to see if I need a $500 machine. Why not just sell me the machine and if I don't feel better, just throw it in the trash can and come out $6,500 ahead. All they care about is making money.

    December 21, 2010 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Thomas la stent

    Ya i gotta agree i, good one. I bookmarked you on Digg under "Get Some Sleep: No snoring is safe – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs". Keep up with the good stuff.

    November 22, 2011 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Komujuni

    I understand how you feel. My hnbsaud had the same problem. His snoring would always wake up the children in the night and most nights in the week i got broken sleep all night. He didn't have to wear a CPAP mask but in the end he had to have surgery. Unfortunately even after the surgery his snoring is not much better. Now, we don't know what to do? Good luck and best wishes.

    April 7, 2012 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 4, 2012 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. stelfarwell

    Snoring is annoying but when its your partner you feel concern about his health. There are available anti snoring devices that could help him eliminate snoring!

    February 6, 2014 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 29, 2014 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 14, 2015 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Micheal Rowarth

    Yes, you are right. No snoring is safe as it harms to human health. My wife used to snore very badly which give harm to her health as well as mine so someone told my wife to take surgery and some people said to take anti snoring pills. She tried everything but didn't get any effect. One day she came to know by her colleague to use Stop Snoring Mouth Guard which helps to eliminate snoring, She ordered that Quit Snoring Device Online from https://www.quitsnoringsolution.com at just $62. She uses that device for 5 weeks and never snores again. This device is really effective seriously.

    February 21, 2018 at 04:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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  21. Richard Berne

    Wow. This is an eye-opening article. I live alone, and I know that I have had snoring issues intermittently in the past, so for me it's important to know the issues associated with snoring. Personally, before I try any mechanical aids or pharmaceuticals, I would like to exhaust all the more natural options like life-style changes. I have also read that the snoring exercises found at the website: http://www.stopsnoring.thetopfive.club can stop snoring within 3 to 5 minutes. This article should be motivation for anyone who snores to try to get the condition under control.

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