Snoring. Most of us do it occasionally, and the majority of people see it as just a minor annoyance. However, it can be a symptom of more serious conditions, such as sleep apnoea, so if you are aware that you snore regularly and are worried you might have sleep apnoea (see below) it might be worth seeking expert advice.
Snoring is a common problem; the NHS estimates that one in four people in England snore and the risk increases as you get older. But before you dismiss this pesky habit as just an annoyance, snoring is increasingly being linked to a number of very serious medical problems including dementia.
Earlier this year, Time magazine published the results of a study that found that any disruption to sleep patterns can affect the brain over time. Initially published in the journal Neurology, the study found that people with sleep apnoea, which is commonly associated with snoring, tend to develop memory problems and other symptoms of mild cognitive impairment at an earlier age than those that don't snore or suffer from sleep apnoea.
The link between snoring and dementia
Researchers at the NYU Center for Brain Health followed 2,000 patients enrolled in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. These patients – all over the age of 55 – were asked about their snoring or sleep apnoea and their cognitive status was assessed every six months for three years and any changes were recorded.
It was found that snorers or those suffering from sleep apnoea developed sings of mild cognitive impairment about 12 years earlier than those not suffering from sleeping disorders. Mild cognitive impairment is often the precursor for developing Alzheimer's.
The reason why these sleep disorders might be causing these problems is not entirely clear. It's possible that even the short periods where breathing is interrupted starves the brain of oxygen. Other studies have indicated that levels of amyloid, the protein responsible for Alzheimer's, build up during the day and decrease at night.
Snoring and other health problems
It's not just an increased risk of developing dementia; sleep disorders have been linked to a number of other serious health concerns:
stroke – if you're a particularly loud snorer then you have a greater risk of carotid atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries in the neck, that can lead to stroke
heart disease – studies have shown that those suffering from sleep apnoea are two times more likely to have a heart attack
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GORD, is a common associated health problem for those who suffer from sleep apnoea – although it's not completely clear why this happens.
If you're worried that snoring or sleep apnoea is becoming a problem, then there are a number treatment options that can be explored. Book a consultation with ENT consultant surgeon Mr Julian Hamann to discuss your treatment options in full.
If you Google 'stop snoring' you are instantly presented with over a million results, with pages and pages of clever devices and treatments that claim to halt a common problem, affecting many men and women in the UK. These include mouthpieces, chin straps, nose strips and throat rinses – and for long-suffering partners of snorers, ear plugs.