Snoring linked to increased cardiovascular risk

by Melanie Thomassian Health Professional

It is estimated that about 40% of adult males, and 24% of adult females are habitual snorers. Researchers have long suspected the link between snoring and cardiovascular illnesses, but a recent study has now confirmed this link.

Hungarian researchers interviewed 12,643 participants, and found that loud snorers had a:

  • 34% increased risk of having a heart attack.

  • 67% greater chance of suffering a stroke.

The study also indicated that those who snore quietly had no increase in their risk of cardiovascular illness.

What is snoring?

Snoring often occurs when the soft palate in the mouth vibrates, and is a sign that the airway is being partially blocked.

About one half of people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing the airway to narrow or close as you breathe in. Sensing the inability to breath, your brain may briefly rouse you from sleep, so that you can reopen the airway.

This pattern can be repeated several times throughout the night, therefore impairing the ability to reach a deep sleep.

Signs of sleep apnea may include:

  • Loud snoring

  • Abrupt awakenings

  • Frequent urination at night

  • Morning headaches

  • Feeling irritable

  • Poor concentration

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

8 possible risk factors for sleep apnea:

1) Excess weight Snoring is more common in people who are overweight, due to the greater amount of fat in the back of the throat. Unfortunately, it's a vicious circle--sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation, which leads to less activity, which leads to more weight gain, which adds to the sleep problem--I'm sure you get the picture

2) Neck circumference. A neck circumference greater than 17 inches is associated with an increased risk of sleep problems.

3) Being male. Habitual snoring is thought to affect around 40% of males, and 24% of females. However, if a woman is overweight, her risk is also increased.

4) Being older. Sleep apnea occurs two to three times more often in adults over the age of 65 years.

5) Family history. Having a family history of sleep apnea willincrease your risk of experiencing problems.

6) Blood pressure. It is not uncommon for those with high blood pressure to also suffer with sleep apnea.

7) Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in the throat, and therefore enhance the problem of sleep apnea.

8) Smoking. Smoking is thought to increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, however the risk decreases after smoking cessation.

So, what can you do if you suffer from sleep problems?

  • Remember, the quality of your sleep depends to a large extent on what you're eating; therefore, try to follow a healthy balanced diet, including plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of meat. Also, consume smaller meals, and ensure you finish eating 2-3 hours prior to going to bed.

  • If you are overweight, try to lose weight in a sensible way. Experts suggest that even a little weight loss can improve symptoms.

  • Exercising regularly will also help you to lose weight, and it has the added benefit of making you fall asleep easier, and contributes to a sounder sleep. Aim for 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, at least 5 times each week.

  • It's also a good idea to avoid alcohol, smoking, and medications that make you sleepy. These substances make it more difficult for your throat to stay open while you sleep.

Whilst snoring is not necessarily a sign of something more serious, in light of recent findings, it's particularly important that you see your doctor as soon as possible if you're experiencing sleep problems.

Melanie Thomassian
Meet Our Writer
Melanie Thomassian

Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.