You may think of snoring as just a minor annoying problem or a side effect of sleep. But before you discount your snoring as nothing out of the ordinary, consider that people whose snoring is caused by severe sleep apnea have a 40 percent greater chance of dying early than do their peers. That’s because this sleep disorder is related to a host of health problems, from heart disease to depression.
An analysis of health data from one sleep study found that the intensity of snoring was related to the risk of carotid atherosclerosis, narrowing of the arteries in the neck due to fatty deposits called plaque, and as a result, stroke. Simply put, the louder and longer you snore each night, the greater your long-term risk for a stroke. Protect yourself by getting help for snoring, especially if you experience daytime sleepiness, if your spouse says your breathing stops in your sleep (which are both signs of sleep apnea), or if you have other health concerns, such as high blood pressure.
We know that sleep apnea is linked to cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, eventually leading to possible heart attacks. In fact, data suggest that people with sleep apnea are twice as likely to have both nonfatal heart disease events and fatal heart attacks. Treatment for this sleep disorder is effective: Clinical studies have also shown that treating sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) reduces your heart disease risk to that of people without sleep apnea.
People with long-term snoring or sleep apnea risk developing an irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia. Researchers have found that people with sleep apnea are more likely to have episodes of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, than people without it or people whose apnea is treated with CPAP. Apnea may affect the conductive system of the heart. Or it might be more common because obstructive sleep apnea appears to enlarge the left atrium over a long period of time.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is very common in people with sleep apnea. People who have sleep apnea also may have GERD because of the disordered way in which their throat closes while air moves in and out during sleep, causing pressure changes that can suck the contents of their stomach back up into the esophagus. Both GERD and sleep apnea are related to being overweight and both seem to ease as people return to a normal weight.
Mental Health Issues
Sleep apnea can affect your mental well-being, leading to issues from crankiness from a lack of sleep to serious depression. In fact, the link between sleep apnea, snoring, and depression is well established. A recent study of 74 snorers showed that the more daytime sleepiness people report, the greater their chances of also having mild depression or anxiety symptoms. Researchers are still untangling this relationship, but treating sleep apnea does seem to help ease depression.