Sawing Logs at Night Can Mean Trouble Breathing

If your family doesn't have one, you probably have experienced it somewhere — the person who snores like a chainsaw. You know what I mean.

I've been camping with a person like this. Everyone in camp prayed they fell asleep before he did. Because if you didn't, you couldn't sleep for the rattle and hum.

Ok, so some cases are extreme. Some folks snore so loudly that they get put in the last tent in the line or put out on the porch of the beach house every summer.

But, most of the time, the snorer doesn't know it. The person he shares a bed with is the one who suffers. (Sorry guys… we're usually the offenders.) Night after night, year after year. It doesn't have to be that way. Heavy snoring is often a symptom of serious sleep disorder that can be treated. It can be a sign of condition called sleep apnea, especially if they also tend to be tired during the day.

When they're asleep, people with sleep apnea stop breathing. When that happens, their brain notices and wakes them up a little. Then, they gasp for breath and start breathing again and fall back to sleep. Usually, this isn't enough to completely wake the person up. But it can happen hundreds of times a night. The problem is it happens so often that the person never gets good, restful sleep. So they're sleepy all the time.

Being sleepy leads to symptoms of depression, irritability, and memory problems. It also can be downright dangerous. Folks can fall asleep while driving or operating heavy machinery.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. It can affect both sexes. Here are some of the risk factors: being overweight, having a small jaw, having a large neck, smoking or alcohol use, or being older than age 40.

Loud snoring is the most common symptom of a sleep disorder, but it's not the only one. Here are a few others to watch out for.

  • Depression or negative mood
  • Frequent blinking or trouble focusing your eyes
  • Difficulty switching approaches to a problem
  • Slowed thinking or reacting
  • Trouble understanding directions
  • Trouble retaining information
  • Falling asleep during an activity such as reading, watching TV, or sitting in a meeting
  • Poor judgment in complex situations
  • Impatience or short temper

Thomas Kane is the program coordinator for SVMC's Sleep Disorders Lab.