The Link Between Snoring and Weight

More than just a funny sound, snoring can lead to serious health problems.

You’ve probably cracked jokes about your uncle snoring on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner or the sound of your dad sawing logs echoing through your childhood home. But the truth is, snoring isn’t funny, and it could be a sign of a serious sleep disorder.

With the daily sleep duration of Americans declining at an alarming rate — it’s down 1.5 to 2 hours in the past 40 years — every minute of restorative sleep is precious. And if someone is snoring, it’s not likely they are getting the full benefits of sleep.

Technically, snoring is the sound of air turbulence in the back of the throat caused by a narrowing of the airway, according to Dr. Carol Ash, former medical director of the Sleep for Life Program at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey.

“So the sound of someone snoring is really the sound of someone who is having a hard time breathing,” she says. “The most frequent myth about snoring is that it is harmless or even humorous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Snoring is a sign of a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder.”

Kind of makes those jokes about your drunk buddy keeping you awake in college less funny, right? In fact, Ash says snoring can be a serious issue that touches many aspects of life. Snoring can lead to high blood pressure, stroke or even heart disease.

“It can affect relationships too,” she says. “Snoring can be a damper on marital intimacy if the partners are sleeping in separate quarters.”

Being overweight can exacerbate snoring, because one of the causes of the turbulence in the throat is the narrowing of the airway due to neck fat. Losing weight can help alleviate the problem by reducing fat in the neck and helping to open the airway.

There are numerous over-the-counter treatments for snoring, ranging from malleable mouthpieces sold on late-night infomercials to nasal sprays to pillows that help your neck positioning. But Ash says these are temporary fixes. “It’s a condition that should be treated by a physician who is a board-certified sleep specialist,” she says.

Joyce Walsleben, PhD, former head of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at New York University, agrees that snoring is no laughing matter. That loud snorting sound that bellows from the mouth of a snoring person is the tissue in the airway literally rattling, and it’s not confined to just guys. “About 40 to 50 percent of all people snore, and most women don’t even know they do it,” she says.

But when does snoring cross the line from sporadic annoyance to major health issue?

“If a person’s snoring is loud and excessive, to the point of disturbing their bed partner, or is accompanied by a gasping for breath and excessive fatigue, you should definitely see a doctor,” says Walsleben.

Walsleben says snoring can result in heightened adrenaline levels in the body. “It also increases the incidence of stroke and heart attack,” she says.

In addition to surgery, dental appliances, decongestants and other medical treatments for snoring, Walsleben says people can take their own actions to reduce the frequency of their snoring:
  • Eliminate alcohol of any kind near bedtime.
  • Change your sleeping position to one where you are not snoring (have your partner observe you).
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
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