This article was not written by a health professional and is not intended to provide medical advice.
The author used publicly available journal articles and resources listed for your reference at the end of this article

Snoring may seem like just a nuisance, but it can be a symptom of sleep apnea. Why is that a problem? That’s because there is a strong link between sleep apnea and heart disease as well as stroke risk.

How do you know if you have sleep apnea? What is the treatment? How are sleep apnea and heart failure related?

Let’s talk about the connection between sleep apnea and heart failure.

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What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a health condition that affects more people than you would expect. One out of five adults has at least mild sleep apnea. Men are more prone to it than women, and obesity is a common risk factor. 

There are two types of sleep apnea. Both involve a person who stops breathing multiple times throughout the night. The difference is what causes the person to stop breathing. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the more common type of sleep apnea. It’s a condition where your tongue or soft tissues in the back of your mouth partially block your airway. There are several different risk factors, with obesity being the most common. 

Snoring is typically caused by soft tissues partially blocking the airway. It’s one common symptom of sleep apnea. However, snoring isn’t always a symptom of OSA. 

Central sleep apnea is less common. In this case, your brain stops telling your body to breathe while you sleep. Snoring is not an indicator of this type of sleep apnea. 

People are diagnosed with sleep apnea if they stop breathing five to 15 times per hour. People who stop breathing 15 to 30 times per hour have moderate sleep apnea. People who stop breathing more than 30 times per hour have severe sleep apnea. 

How do you know if you have sleep apnea? Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. Your sleeping partner may hear you frequently stop breathing, then gasp for breath. 

The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is with a sleep test. A machine monitors your breathing throughout the night to see how often you stop breathing.

If your snoring is not a symptom of sleep apnea, or if you have mild sleep apnea, snoring solutions may help. A snoring mouthpiece may be all you need to start sleeping better. 

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Obesity

Not only is obesity a common cause of sleep apnea, but sleep apnea can also contribute to obesity. That’s because people with sleep apnea don’t get proper rest. Lack of quality sleep can cause obesity, and the cycle continues on forever. 

One reason that obesity is such a common cause of sleep apnea is because it adds weight to the neck. This added pressure on the airways can cause them to collapse. While losing weight can improve sleep apnea, losing weight takes time and is not a quick fix. 

Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease or Stroke

Obesity is a known factor in heart disease, stroke, and sleep apnea. In part, that’s because lifestyle habits that lead to obesity-caused sleep apnea can also cause heart disease and stroke.

However, the link is stronger than that. Studies are showing that treating sleep apnea in obese patients can lower their risk of heart failure. 

That’s right. Treating sleep apnea can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke without making other lifestyle changes. 

Eating better and exercising are still the best ways to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. However, it’s encouraging to know that treating sleep apnea is enough to help reduce risks. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

For mild cases of sleep apnea, a snoring mouthpiece may be enough to help you breathe. They typically work by preventing your tongue from relaxing into your airway while you sleep. 

For moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea, you may need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. You wear a mask, and the machine blows enough air to keep your airways open. 

Some people have trouble using a CPAP machine. They may find the mask uncomfortable or be bothered by the hose. There are a variety of masks to choose from, so don’t give up until you’ve tried several. 

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

With or without sleep apnea, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to leading a healthy, happy life. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep:

  • Exercise, but not too late at night. Exercise can wear you out and make you more tired. However, it also releases adrenaline, which can keep you awake if you exercise too close to bedtime. 
  • Avoid caffeine late at night. Caffeine stays in your system for a long time and can keep you awake. 
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol can worsen sleep apnea and reduce the quality of your sleep. Women should stick with one drink per night and men should stop at two. 
  • Have a bedtime routine that tells your body to start getting ready for sleep. Try drinking herbal tea, taking a warm bath (bonus points for using lavender bubble bath), or dimming the lights. 
  • Put away your electronics at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted from phone and computer screens simulates daylight and tricks your brain out of falling asleep. 
  • Don’t do anything in bed besides sleep…or have sex. Don’t read, watch TV, or play with an electronic device in bed. Your brain needs to understand that your bed is for sleeping. 

Wrapping Up

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Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Luckily, sleep apnea is treatable. Treating sleep apnea can improve your lifespan as well as your quality of life. 

If you think you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about doing a sleep test. It’s the first step toward a healthier life and reduced risk of stroke or heart disease.