In the U.S., we’re celebrating Independence Day tomorrow, with fireworks and cookouts and those quiet moments when we remember what the day is there to mark: the ideals of liberty that drove our founding as a nation. My family will meet up with friends for a hike and lake swim, and later we’ll all find a comfortable spot to watch our town’s fireworks show.
I’ve been thinking about what independence means: to be self-governing, free, and not controlled by outside forces.
What does independence mean, in terms of sleep?
I think it means having a sleep routine that you control, rather than being controlled by your sleep issues, like snoring.
About half of us will snore at some point during our lifetimes. About 90 million American adults snore occasionally or regularly. And roughly 25 million or more adults suffer from sleep apnea, a form of sleep-disordered breathing for which loud snoring is often a symptom.
That’s a whole lot of us who are not in control of our sleep. And a whole lot of bed-mates who can’t control their sleep either, because they have a sleep partner who snores.
It might be tempting to think we’re in control of our sleep even when we snore, but science tells us otherwise.
Snoring can cause frequent short awakenings throughout the night. Some of these sleep interruptions, called micro-arousals, are so brief we don’t even know they’re happening. But they’re linked to higher risk for heart disease and metabolic disease.
At least in part because of these more frequent awakenings, snoring changes the way we move through the five different stages of sleep, which run from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. When we snore, we’re likely to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep, and less time in deep sleep. That’s part of the reason why a snoring habit leaves many people feeling tired and un-rested after a night of sleep.
Sleep apnea also causes these (and other) problems, usually to an even greater degree than snoring on its own. But increasingly, scientific studies are telling us that “simple snoring” is never really simple, and that snoring contributes to health problems, even when it isn’t associated with sleep apnea. For example, new research shows that snoring is linked to a higher risk for high blood pressure, apart from any influence of sleep apnea.
How can we take back control of our sleep from snoring? There are a range of ways to address a snoring problem, from making lifestyle changes to using different devices that help you breathe better during sleep.
You’ve probably heard that weight loss can make a big difference for snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep experts suggest that even a modest weight loss can make a difference for snoring. And weight loss can also improve sleep apnea. (Many people who are overweight or obese have sleep apnea.)
For people with sleep apnea, CPAP is often prescribed as a treatment. CPAP is a long-standing, effective treatment for sleep apnea. It also has a long-standing issue with compliance. Research shows one of the toughest things about getting CPAP to work effectively is getting people to use the device consistently, night after night. Studies indicate many people stop using CPAP after a while—or never even start, after they’re prescribed the device.
Oral mouthpieces are another scientifically proven treatment for snoring and sleep apnea. These mouthpieces move the jaw forward, reducing the vibrations that cause snoring and restoring normal breathing. Sleep experts tell us they’re effective in helping snoring as well as in treating sleep apnea, and are often an easier form of snoring and sleep apnea treatment for people to stick with than CPAP.
Here’s to a great Independence Day! And here’s to independence from snoring—and taking back control of sleep.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds