As we age, snoring becomes almost a fact of life. If you don’t snore yourself, you probably know at least one person who does. Up to 40% of adults snore each night, and that percentage is higher among seniors.
Snoring can be a nuisance to bed partners, but it can also cause health issues and may affect the brain, researchers say.
Most people know that snoring is an indication that something isn’t right in the breathing department. But did you know that snoring is actually a form of sleep apnea?
These 7 health effects have been linked to snoring in seniors – and even younger adults.
1. Heart Disease
Sleep apnea has been linked to cardiovascular issues, like coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Both can lead to a heart attack.
Data suggests that people who have sleep apnea are twice as likely to suffer a fatal heart attack or experience a non-fatal heart disease event.
One study suggests that excessive snoring can actually thicken the walls of the arteries that link the heart to the brain. Researchers still don’t know for sure why this happens, but it is believed that the vibration of the snoring causes the arteries to react and thicken.
Studies also suggest that snoring is linked to a greater risk of stroke, particularly carotid atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries.
The louder you snore, the greater your risk of stroke experts say.
Because snoring is a form of sleep apnea and causes you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night, it can actually reduce the amount of oxygen going to the brain.
3. Mental Health and Cognitive Issues
Reduced oxygen to the brain can lead to a stroke, but it can also lead to mental health issues as well as cognitive issues.
Those who have sleep apnea tend to develop signs of mild cognitive impairment, including slower cognitive skills and memory lapses. Signs of these impairments often show up about 12 years earlier than those who did not report having sleep apnea.
Mild cognitive impairment is often (but not always) a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
Along with cognitive issues, snoring can also affect your mental well-being. From depression to lack of sleep and crankiness, snoring can cause a wide range of mental health issues.
The link between snoring and depression is already well-established, but it’s also been linked to anxiety. Treatment of sleep apnea has actually been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is common among people who have sleep apnea. The reason people who snore develop GERD is because of the way their throats close while air moves in and out as they sleep.
The closing of the throat causes pressure changes that can cause acid in the stomach to come back up into the esophagus.
Both sleep apnea and GERD have been linked to being overweight. Both of these conditions ease as people return back to a normal weight.
People who snore are far more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. The most common form is atrial fibrillation.
Arrhythmia causes fluctuations in the heart’s natural rhythm, which can cause it to beat too slowly, quickly or at irregular intervals.
On its own arrhythmia is common and not life-threatening, but when combined with snoring, it increase the risk of more serious cardiac issues.
6. Lack of Energy and Injury
Snoring disrupts your normal sleeping pattern, which can cause you to feel tired and groggy during the day. People who snore regularly often feel tired all of the time because they never get a restful night of sleep.
The biggest issue with daytime sleepiness for seniors is the risk of injury. Drowsiness can cause you to lose your balance more easily, which can lead to serious falls and other accidents.
Seniors who are still driving are at greater risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
7. Chronic Headaches
Habitual snorers often wake up with headaches, studies show. In fact, headaches have been linked to most sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea.
Those who suffer with snoring and chronic headaches often report a lower quality of life than those who do not have to deal with headaches.
Is There an Effective Treatment for Snoring?
If you’re a senior who snores at night, you may be wondering if there’s a treatment for this sleep-disrupting condition. The good news? There is.
A sleep apnea pillow or CPAP (continuous airway pressure) machine or mask can help prevent snoring and many of the health effects associated with it.
What Causes Snoring?
You know the health effects of snoring and even possible treatments, but what actually causes you to snore at night? There are several reasons why you might be snoring.
- Sinus or nasal problems: Sinus infections and seasonal allergies can make breathing more difficult which can cause you to snore at night. A deviated septum can also lead to an imbalance in your breathing passages, which can cause you to snore.
- Age: People tend to snore more frequently as they age because the body naturally relaxes and loses its muscle tone. As the throat and tongue muscles relax, they fall back into the airways, causing blockages that lead to snoring.
- Sleep posture: Seniors who sleep on their backs are at greater risk of snoring at night because tissues at the back of the throat can fall back and block the airways. Sleeping on your side can help prevent this from happening.
- Weight: A senior’s weight is one of the biggest contributing factors to snoring. Those who are overweight are far more likely to suffer from snoring and more serous forms of sleep apnea. With more pressure on the chest and fatty tissues in the throat, the throat and airways are easily obstructed.
For seniors, snoring is a common affair, but it can lead to serious health issues if it happens frequently. Snoring occasionally is normal, but if it’s a regular occurrence and disturbs your partner at night, it may be time to speak to your doctor. A sleep study can help determine what’s causing the snoring, so you can develop an effective treatment plan.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.