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Special Health Reports

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

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Snoring and Sleep Apnea

This Harvard Medical School guide explains the physical traits and lifestyle habits that contribute to both snoring and sleep apnea. It describes simple things you can do to prevent snoring and offers advice on devices and procedures that may help treat stubborn cases. You’ll also learn whether you should be checked for sleep apnea—and what that testing entails. In addition, you'll receive details and advice about using positive airway pressure (PAP), the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, as well as several other therapies.

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Is your nighttime breathing louder than a vacuum cleaner—or maybe even a leaf blower? Has your bed partner invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphone to use while sleeping? If so, rest assured you’re not alone. Nearly everyone snores at least occasionally, and habitual snoring is also quite common. About 44% of men and 28% of women ages 30 to 60 snore on a regular basis.

Snoring occurs when air can’t move freely through the passageway at the back of the nose and mouth, usually due to loose, floppy tissue in the tongue or throat. As a result, the surrounding tissue vibrates with each breath, creating noise.

In general, snoring by itself does not appear to be harmful to your health. But loud snoring can disrupt a partner’s sleep, potentially triggering relationship problems. And high-volume snoring punctuated by brief pauses in breathing is the hallmark of obstructive sleep apnea.

In sleep apnea, the airway becomes completely or almost completely blocked for brief periods, causing the person to stop breathing for at least 10 seconds—sometimes hundreds of times a night. This serious condition, which affects an estimated 25% of men and 10% of women, is closely linked to several health problems, but especially heart and blood vessel disease.

This Harvard Medical School guide explains the physical traits and lifestyle habits that contribute to both snoring and sleep apnea. It describes simple things you can do to prevent snoring and offers advice on devices and procedures that may help treat stubborn cases. You’ll also learn whether you should be checked for sleep apnea—and what that testing entails. In addition, you'll receive details and advice about using positive airway pressure (PAP), the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, as well as several other therapies.

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with Sogol Javaheri, M.D., Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Sleep Specialist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (2019)

About Harvard Medical School Guides

Harvard Medical School Guides deliver compact, practical information on important health concerns. These publications are smaller in scope than our Special Health Reports, but they are written in the same clear, easy-to-understand language, and they provide the authoritative health advice you expect from Harvard Health Publishing.

  • From disruptive to dangerous
  • Snoring and its causes
  • How to silence snoring
  • Sleep apnea and its symptoms
  • Risk factors for sleep apnea
  • Diagnosing sleep apnea
  • Health hazards of sleep apnea
  • Treating sleep apnea
  • Resources

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