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Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – What’s the Difference?

Understand the differences between snoring and sleep apnea.  One can be life-threatening, the other a huge annoyance, particularly for you as the bed partner.  Sleep apnea needs to be professionally diagnosed for the ongoing health of the sufferer.

He gasps, he snorts, and he is grappling for breath!  He likely has sleep apnea.  (This can happen with women as well.)

You’ve probably heard these telltale signs.

It’s also scary.  If you’ve ever lain beside someone with sleep apnea and literally watched that person stop breathing – it is scary!


The actual loud snoring sound is created as the soft palette and the uvula vibrate.  The uvula is the little fleshy bit of skin that hangs down at the back of your throat.  From physics, we know that any rapidly moving air will try to elevate and vibrate the objects in its path; hence, voluminous airflow passing through the nose or mouth causes this loud, intense vibration.  It’s the irregularity of the air movement when it’s not consistently even, that causes the sporadic vibration of the soft pallet.  The National Sleep Foundation research suggests that about 44% men and 28% women snore and this snoring affects their bed partners.  When someone snores loudly and constantly every night, it is considered chronic snoring.  Other times, snoring only occurs on an occasional basis and can be due to excessive tiredness, overeating, sleeping on one’s back, excessive alcohol consumption etc.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, is where the sufferer’s breathing actually stops for a brief period of time – anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute.  The initial culprits that trigger the onset of sleep apnea are weight gain, aging, and lose of muscle tone, though this can also occur in younger people without the typical triggers.  In a home setting, sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed, as very often, it is accompanied by loud snoring, though snoring does not need to occur for the person to be having apnea events.  When the throat muscles relax during sleep, the windpipe collapses.  This then prevents the oxygen from flowing.  As the blood oxygen level decreases, the brain finally kicks in and say, ‘Hey! It’s time to give me oxygen’, so it wakes you up just enough for you to tighten up the upper airway muscles and open your windpipe.  This results in a huge intake of air and causes snorting and gasping, literally for breath.  This pattern can repeat hundreds of time through the night and the sufferer is never the wiser.  This is why it is so important to monitor your daytime behavior and how you feel.  My husband suffers from very mild apnea events and he can always tell when he’s had a ‘bad’ night as his throat tends to be sore the next day, and he is very tired and groggy upon waking.  If left unchecked or untreated, it can lead to intense irritability and depression, as well as morning headaches, loss of sex drive and a decline in cognitive functioning.  There can also be an increased risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and an elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Millions of people have their sleep interrupted with this disturbing medical condition…and millions go undiagnosed.  This extremely common sleep disorder is one that definitely needs medical attention.  It is diagnosed by spending a night or two in a sleep lab hooked up to Polysomnography equipment that monitors your heartbeat, breathing and brainwave activity.  

Once sleep apnea is diagnosed, the common solution is to sleep with a CPAP mask (continuous positive airway pressure) over your nose and mouth.  It provides regulated flow of air through the nasal passages, which prevents your windpipe from closing.  For milder cases of sleep apneaHealth Fitness Articles, learning to sleep on one’s side often will correct the situation.  Extreme solutions involve surgery to correct structural deformities.  All solutions must be discussed with your medical practitioner.

Source: Free Articles from


Sleep Coach, Glenda Sparling, e-book author, ‘the Spirit of Sleep’, addresses the challenges faced around sleep issues & insomnia.  Effective tools & techniques for eliminating sleep anxiety and insomnia are offered at

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