By Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria
Have you ever shared the same room with someone who snores? Those who have will readily confess that it's an unpleasant experience. Snoring can be a bore to the person sharing the bed or room with the snorer because while the latter seems to sleep soundly, the 'room mate' likely tosses about, waiting for the first light of dawn.
Men snore more than men, researchers say. And it could be a distraught experience for a woman, especially after a bout of ... ahem, when the man drifts into a sound sleep, while the woman remains awake with his limp arm still wrapped around her in an unconscious state of being!
However, researchers counsel that if your partner snores, instead of getting mad at the irritating condition, get help very quickly, because snoring is a risky medical condition that happens when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, creating the irritating sounds.
They warn that the situation is dangerous because when you snore, your breathing becomes shallow or even stops for a while during the night, which can lead to death if you don't wake up within five minutes of breath cessation.
Scientists note that up to 80 per cent of men snore at some time, double the number of women, while about 40 per cent of men snore every night. This is mainly because men have narrower air passages than women, they note.
Sleep disorder specialist, Dr. Debo Sanusi, notes that snoring is caused by a combination of factors, including body position and alcohol. "When you snore, you can't move air freely through your nose and mouth during sleep," he warns.
Another specialist in the disorder, Dr. Andrew Veale, of the New Zealand Respiratory and Sleep Institute, says it could also be as result of certain genes passed down the family tree.
"The most important thing is the inherited shape of your face and neck. So, if dad is a snorer and you resemble him, you're in deep strife," Veale warns. He says further that this is because a narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids, and other physical attributes that contribute to snoring are often hereditary.
Sanusi notes that alcohol is a muscle relaxer that eases the tension in the muscles of the airway, inevitably leading to snoring. He says as an individual increases his alcohol consumption, the tissues in his throat become much more 'floppy,' making it inevitable for him to snore as he sleeps.
Otolaryngologists say people who snore may have developed obstructive sleep apnea (a breathing obstruction, causing the sleeper to keep waking up to begin breathing again), which increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, USA, also warns that in addition to heart disease, snorers stand the risk of developing stroke!
Worse still, physicians warn, snoring can make the snorer susceptible to death by cancer. A study presented at the American Thoracic Society conference concludes that people with severe sleep apnea are almost five times as likely to die of cancer as those who breathe easy while they sleep.
The lead researcher, Dr. Javier Nieto, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, says his team tracked 1,500 people for 22 years, and found that apnea reduces the oxygen level in the blood. "When the body senses this, to avoid suffocating, tumours grow new blood vessels. These extra veins and arteries help existing tumours grow faster and give cancer cells more opportunities to spread through the bloodstream to new parts of the body," Nieto explains.
Apart from alcohol and gene, other things that are responsible for snoring include age. Experts warn that as you reach middle age and beyond, your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases, leading to the possibility of becoming a snorer.
Physicians also say if you have nasal and sinus problems, the blocked airways make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring.
And if you are overweight, it's bad news all the way, as the fatty tissue and poor muscle tone contribute to snoring.
Doctors also say that smoking and certain medications can increase muscle relaxation, leading to more snoring. And if you are the type that sleeps flat on your back, this habit will cause the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway, resulting inevitably in snoring.
While the Nieto team says more research is needed to confirm their suspicion that snoring may cause cancer, they agree that snoring is cause for concern, as it could lead to accidents, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
They counsel, "If you snore and are sleepy during the day, check with your doctor, especially if you're overweight - a situation that increases sleep apnea risk.
Sanusi also notes that signs of sleep apnea include grumpiness, forgetfulness, and headaches that are hard to shake off.