If it seems like your partner is snoring louder than ever, you’re not imagining things. While snoring can start at any age, it occurs more often as we age, and it tends to get worse over time.
Snoring may seem like nothing more than annoyance to your partner, but it can be a sign of something more serious.
Why Does Snoring Get Worse as We Age?
Most people put on a little more weight as they get older. That extra weight, especially around the neck, makes the throat narrower and leads to snoring.
Post-menopausal women may also gain weight because of hormonal changes (mainly a decrease in progesterone levels).
We also lose some muscle tone as we age, which contributes to snoring.
Snoring May Be a Sign of Sleep Apnea
We may joke about our partners’ snoring habits, but it’s no laughing matter. Snoring is often a sign of sleep apnea – another common condition in older adults.
With simple snoring, the throat narrows. With sleep apnea, the throat closes.
How can you tell the difference between simple snoring and sleep apnea?
Look for the following signs:
- Waking up feeling tired and unrefreshed
- Poor memory function
- Getting up often to urinate at night
- Blood pressure issues
If you or your partner are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.
How Else Does Snoring Affect Seniors?
Snoring can affect seniors in a number of ways. Aside from being a nuisance to your sleeping partner, it can also lead to:
Snoring is a common sign of sleep apnea, which can lead to sleep deprivation. When the throat closes, it causes a brief pause in your breathing. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Normal breathing then starts again, usually signaled by a loud snort or choking sound.
Those brief pauses can cause you to wake up multiple times throughout the night. In severe cases of sleep apnea, people may wake up 30 times or more every hour. Even if you’re only awake for seconds, that disturbance to your sleep adds up over time.
Sleep deprivation can cause:
- Poor cognitive function
- Decreased alertness
- Poor immune system
The body needs adequate rest to repair and recharge. Snoring can prevent you from getting a good night sleep.
Studies have linked sleep apnea and snoring to premature memory decline. Heavy snorers may experience cognitive decline a decade earlier than those who don’t snore.
One study looked at older people who developed mild cognitive issues or Alzheimer’s disease. Those who had untreated sleep apnea began experiencing mental loss around age 77. Those without breathing problems did not experience cognitive decline until around age 90.
Those who used a CPAP machine to treat their sleep apnea experienced mental decline at the same age as those without breathing problems.
Snoring and sleep apnea may not cause dementia, but it may quicken the onset of mental decline.
Some studies have found a link between the intensity of snoring and the risk of having a stroke.
The louder and longer the snoring, the greater the risk of carotid atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries in the neck due to plaque and fatty deposits.
GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease)
Gastro esophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD, is common among snorers and those with sleep apnea.
GERD can develop in people who snore or have sleep apnea because of the way their throats close during sleep. The change in pressure as air moves in and out can actually pull the contents of the stomach up into the esophagus.
Sleep apnea and GERD are both tied to being overweight, and both seem to ease or disappear as you return to a normal weight.
Heavy snorers and those with sleep apnea are 3-4 times more likely to wake up with a headache, studies have shown.
Sleep apnea makes it more difficult to inhale the right amount of oxygen or exhale the right amount of carbon dioxide at night. This causes the blood vessels in your brain to dilate and your head to start pounding.
Snoring and daytime sleepiness may put you at risk for developing heart disease. Sleep apnea is linked to coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, which can both lead to a heart attack.
Studies suggest that people with sleep apnea are twice as likely to suffer fatal heart attacks and non-fatal heart disease events.
Treating sleep apnea with a CPAP machine reduces the risk of heart attacks.
Men with sleep apnea and snoring issues may also suffer from erectile dysfunction. Research shows that up to 60% of men with sleep apnea also have trouble getting and maintaining an erection.
Experts believe the lack of oxygen, which reduces nitric oxide levels, is to blame for this effect. When this occurs, it restricts blood vessels and hinders their function.
When snoring and sleep apnea disrupt your sleep at night, you’re more likely to get hurt during the day.
Sleep deprivation can affect your reaction time, alertness and your ability to concentrate. When you can’t clear the mental fog, you’re at a much greater risk of hurting yourself.
About half of people who snore experience symptoms of depression. Sleep apnea can cause depression symptoms and vice versa, which leads to a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.
Sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation, which then causes depression. Depression can mess up your body chemistry, which then messes up your sleep cycle and causes sleep apnea.
Snoring can be detrimental to a senior’s health, but the good news is that this condition is easily treated using an anti-snoring mouthpiece, using a CPAP machine or through surgery.