"Honey, I love you, but you sound like a freight train."
My researcher's husband greeted her with that line recently.
After she stopped laughing, she contacted her doctor. That's because after working with me for so long, she knows that heavy snoring can indicate serious health problems.
Fortunately, her snoring had a common cause (pregnancy). But for some folks, especially women, snoring can signal a serious problem... obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is when there are momentary interruptions in your breathing while you sleep. This short moment of not breathing likely wakes you up, also interrupting important sleep cycles. And you may not even remember waking up.
Here's why you should worry...
Near the end of last year, a study from Munich University showed snoring and obstructive sleep apnea led to earlier heart problems in women than in men.
The research here is a bit cloudy. Sleep problems like these aren't really the cause of heart disease. They're more like a side effect or warning sign.
For example, you're more likely to develop sleep apnea if you're overweight or obese. But if you have sleep apnea, you develop sleep deprivation... which messes with your hunger hormones and can make you gain weight. It's a vicious cycle.
And although this study points to damage in women's hearts sooner than in men's, both sexes still suffer an increased risk of stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure from sleep apnea.
If you're feeling tired during the day or your spouse has told you that you snore, try this simple at-home sleep deprivation test. I call it the "spoon test."
In the mid-to-late afternoon, get in your sleep clothes (or whatever you normally wear to bed) and turn down the lights in your room. Be sure to do this in the afternoon and not too close to bedtime. You can try this either lying down in bed, relaxed on the couch, or in a comfortable armchair.
Place a metal cooking sheet or a pan on the floor beside you. Get comfortable and hold a metal spoon in your hand just above the pan. Take note of the time, close your eyes, and let yourself fall asleep. Once you're fully asleep, your hand will release the spoon. The noise of the spoon hitting the sheet/pan should wake you up... Record the time at that moment.
(If you are a heavy sleeper or have trouble hearing, get your spouse or a friend to sit with you and record the time instead.)
Well-rested people should take about 15-20 minutes before the spoon hits the plate or pan. If you fall asleep quickly, especially in five minutes or less, you're sleep-deprived. If that's the case, you need to follow my tips for better sleep quality. I've talked about these before (you can read the full essay here), but here's a review:
1. Cut back on the caffeine.
2. Make the bedroom a place for rest.
3. Remove electronics from the bedroom (and no screens before bed).
4. Darken the room.
5. Keep your room cool.
6. Schedule your sleep.
7. Don't eat right before bed.
And if you're struggling with snoring, I suggest sleeping with your head propped up some. Often, snoring will also signal congestion, so trying to alleviate that buildup will help. That's why I also recommend cleaning your sinuses out with a Neti pot.
This time of year, the air tends to dry out, which can trigger breathing problems. Try a humidifier and an allergy-friendly air filter. I use an air filter in my bedroom since I spend about eight hours a day in there.
If the snoring and sleep deprivation continue for more than two weeks, be sure to talk to your doctor. He might suggest a sleep study to see if you need a machine for sleep apnea. There are also free or low-cost sleep study centers at research centers across the country. Check your local hospitals and universities for possible options.
Sleep always ranks high on my annual list of health tips. That's because it's vital for keeping our brains and hearts healthy. So if your loved one snores, show them this essay. You could save them from a stroke or heart attack.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: Pablo Escobar's unlikely legacy... hippos.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 19, 2019