How annoying is it to discover that your cute new partner turns into a buzzsaw as soon as it's bedtime? But is it even worse to have your partner wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you to stop snoring? Either way, the good news (for you and your boo) is that — with a little detective work, and possibly some trial and error — you may not be doomed to snore forever.
So what's really happening when you snore? "It’s a vibration of the soft tissue of your throat," says Maria Suurna, MD, an otolaryngologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. When you sleep, your throat muscles relax. That causes your airway to narrow and makes it more likely for the air you're breathing in and out to cause (noisy) vibrations.
Vibrations in your throat might sound bad (in more ways than one!), but snoring in itself isn't a sign of anything dangerous. For most of us, Dr. Suurna says, snoring is a product of several factors: Having a cold or allergies makes snoring more likely, because they irritate and narrow your nasal passages. "And alcohol or any sedating medications [can cause snoring] because they contribute to muscle relaxation," Dr. Suurna explains.
However, there are times when snoring can become a health concern. If you wake up feeling exhausted, have headaches in the morning, or wake up in the middle of the night with a choking sensation, Dr. Suurna says those are signs that your snoring is actually a symptom of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea actually stop breathing for a moment during the night and wake up, but immediately fall back asleep and don't remember it. If left untreated, Dr. Suurna says the condition is "associated with a lot of health issues — it increases your blood pressure and your risk for strokes and cognitive disorders."
The difficulty is that, because you're asleep when it's happening, it's kind of hard to catch your own sleep apnea. And, unfortunately, the only way to get officially diagnosed is to undergo a night of testing at a sleep lab.
So, if you don't have any of those more serious symptoms, Dr. Suurna suggests trying out a few at-home lifestyle changes first. And, if these don't help, it's time to bring in the professionals. Your snoring might be a symptom of sleep apnea or of some part of your anatomy, such as large tonsils or a deviated septum. The only way to find out is to get it checked out.