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Sleep Disorders and Snoring

The Problems of Snoring
Millions of otherwise happy spouses across America are losing sleep for one simple reason – their partners snore.

The grating, ear shattering noise can be very annoying and disturbing to others.

While snoring is usually a relatively minor health problem, the loss of deep, restorative sleep for both the partner and the snorer can lead to daytime sleepiness, diffi­culty concentrating, crankiness and, research shows, an increased risk of car accidents. There’s also evidence that chronic snoring may even cause hearing loss.

Causes of Snoring
Snoring can be caused by a number of health conditions, including hypothyroidism, allergies or a deviated nasal septum. In addition, anything that causes the throat muscles to relax more than usual or makes the throat tissue swell or narrow – like alcohol, tranquilizers, cigarettes, the common cold, hay fever or even sleep deprivation – can aggravate snoring.

Weight also plays a role. Since snoring is initiated by the sound of inhaled air vibrating against floppy tissues of the throat, those who are heavy are at greater risk because they have more of this tissue around the neck. Fortunately, some people find relief by losing just 10 percent of their weight.

Age is another factor. The older you get, the more likely you are to snore. In fact, by age 50, half of men and a quarter of women snore. In addition, how you sleep contributes to this condition. Lying flat on your back allows the tongue to fall backward and block part of the airway, thus encouraging snoring, while sleeping on your side can quiet things down.

Remedies for Snoring
Luckily, there are a variety of natural remedies that can ease snoring and make life easier for those affected by this condition. Obviously, you should consult a physician if you suspect your snoring is due to a medical condition. But if those night noises are simply due to nasal congestion, herbal decongestants may help by clearing the air passageway.

Eucalyptus oil can be used as a steam inhalation to help clear a short-term congestion problem. And, for garden-variety snoring, one of the many natural snoring sprays that have hit the market might be the answer. Several oil-based sprays are available and work, in theory, by lubricating the tissues that otherwise cause snoring.

Homeopathy is another option. In a recent study, a proprietary homeopathic formula containing Nux vomica, Belladonna, Hydrastis canadensis, Kabichromiucum, Teucrium marum and other compounds significantly decreased snoring after just one night of use compared with a placebo.

The Health Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sometimes, snoring can signal a more serious condition known as sleep apnea. In the United States today, the number of men with sleep apnea between the ages of 30 and 60 outpaces the number of women by twice as many. In fact, the National Institutes for Health states that 12 million Americans are caught in its cycle. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Of the three, obstructive is the most common. But no matter what type you have, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. In central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed apnea, as the name implies, is a combination of the two.

With each apnea event, the brain briefly arouses the person so that they resume breathing. As a consequence, sleep is extremely fragmented and of poor quality. More seriously however, according to a Mayo Clinic study, sleep apnea raises blood pressure, lowers blood oxygen levels and stretches the walls of the atria, making them susceptible to irregular electrical rhythms – a condition called atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart arrhythmia. But, as common as it may be, it can have serious consequences. When the upper chambers of the heart quiver rapidly and erratically – as many as 400 times a minute – blood doesn’t move efficiently through the heart. This pooling blood is more likely to clot, leading to heart attacks or strokes. The condition can also lead to heart failure by causing the heart's main pumping chambers, the ventricles, to contract rapidly – often more than 100 beats per minute.

So, if nothing else seems to stem your snoring, check you’re your health care provider. Although serious cases of sleep apnea may require surgery, the most common treatment is nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). The patient wears a mask over the nose while they sleep, and pressure from an air blower forces air through the nasal passages. The air pressure is adjusted so that it is just enough to prevent the throat from collapsing during sleep.
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