Sleep is a very important component of our everyday routine. Rejuvenating sleep is considered one of the four pillars of health, the other three being effortless breath, good diet and regular exercise.
Good sleep cleans the brain of toxins, repairs cells and tissues, helps in the production of important hormones, in mood regulation and information processing, and memorisation.
Poor sleep is also considered junk sleep. Just like junk food, junk sleep does not provide any value to the rejuvenation of the brain or body and causes problems with weight gain, reduced healing and reparative power of body, less ability to deal with stress, weakened immune system, mental and physical fatigue and so on.
In our Indian culture, we have frequently equated snoring to good sleep.
When we say Mr So and So slept very well because he was snoring all night, the reality could be something else as snoring occurs due to a problem with the upper airway system and is actually dangerous to the body.
Snoring happens if there is any obstruction in the nose or throat areas such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids, excess neck tissue or tongue falling back into the throat while a person is sleeping.
When the airway is narrowed like this, it causes restriction of airflow. In these situations, when a person breathes, the narrowed airway causes turbulence of air, along with the vibration of tissues that are obstructing the airway.
This is how one starts to snore.
Compromising on quality
Although occasional snoring is benign, regular and habitual snoring is harmful and may cause adverse health issues. Snoring reduces the quality of sleep, can frequently wake up the snorer and causes sleep deprivation.
Even family members are affected by a person’s snoring. ‘Second-hand snoring’ is where the patient’s partner also keeps waking up due to the noise created by loud snoring. He or she will experience the same adverse effects of sleep deprivation as the snorer. Snoring may be a cause of social embarrassment or even a major problem in personal relationships or can even cause marital discord.
Snoring is frequently a significant symptom of a more serious health condition called obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea means complete cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep. This occurs when an airflow is completely blocked due to the poor muscle tone of tongue or excessive bulkiness of throat tissue. During this time there is no oxygen to the brain or body. At this point, the brain tells the body to wake up and start breathing and the person wakes up with a loud gasping and jerking movement of the body.
A person with obstructive sleep apnea is unable to go through the normal cycles of sleep, resulting in severe sleep deprivation. This also triggers the release of stress hormones which in turn raises the heart rate continuously throughout the night. People with severe sleep apnea could potentially stop breathing for more than 30–80 times per hour of sleep, making them feel like they haven’t slept at all.
A person with snoring and sleep apnea has a higher risk of developing uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypothyroidism, acid reflux, depression, dementia, impotence or sexual dysfunction.
It is likely that you could have sleep apnea if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, weight gain that is hard to control, body fatigue and pain, teeth grinding, irritability, depression or impaired concentration. Most people who suffer from snoring or sleep apnea do not know they have it because it only occurs during sleep.
Some people experience a dry mouth or sore throat or morning headaches on waking up or during sleep and may wake up gasping or choking for breath and once awake, will find it difficult to go back to sleep, which often results in insomnia.
Men, women and children can all get affected by snoring and sleep apnea. Children are particularly vulnerable to sleep-related breathing disorders. In sleep apnea, their body may not produce enough growth hormone, resulting in abnormally slow growth and development. There are strong associations between childhood sleep apnea, lack of restful sleep and developmental, behavioural and learning problems at school. A child with sleep apnea may exhibit bed wetting, night sweats, attention deficit, irritability, decreased appetite, slow growth or nightmares.
A simple check-up by dental and medical doctors specialised in sleep sciences and a diagnostic sleep study (Polysomnogram), done through a sleep centre would prevent a flood of health problems. Good health through good sleep is an achievable goal. Sleep apnea can be effectively treated. Treatment can sometimes be as simple as lifestyle changes or using a simple, custom-made dental appliance that helps open up your airway, or the usage of breathing machines or surgical therapy where indicated.
(The author is director, Snoring
and Sleep Apnea Centre)