Snoring: Women’s (Not So Quiet) Secret
It was a morning Sue Brown will never forget: her husband, getting up from yet another sleepless night on the couch due to her incessant snoring. “You have to do something,” he pleaded. “You just have to.”
“I was in tears because I could see how it was really bothering him and how much it was draining him,” Sue said. Her snoring had gotten progressively worse during their 12-year marriage, threatening not only her husband’s health, but also their relationship. She agreed she had to do something, but what?
Sue is not alone. While snoring stereotypically has been relegated to the male side of the bed, the fact is that every night, three out of every 10 women snore. This noisy 30 percent are often plagued with chronic sleep disorders, which can pose serious health risks and also lead to daytime sleepiness, reduced productivity at work and strained social relationships, resulting in a sense of isolation.
“I turned down invitations to stay with family and friends out of fear they would hear me snore,” Sue says, “and if I was traveling with other women for work, I would insist on separate hotel rooms. Try telling your boss you snore so badly that they have to pay for you to have a separate room!”
“For women, embarrassment and shame is definitely an obstacle to seeking treatment,” says Dr. Barry Kimberley, who is one of only 140 physicians nationwide who is dual board certified in sleep medicine and otolaryngology. “What women need to know is that 1) they are not alone – many women snore, and 2) not seeking help for their snoring could have serious mental and physical health implications, in addition to the stress it puts on their relationships.”
Dr. Kimberley’s warning should be taken to heart. Snoring could be a symptom of a serious sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. OSA occurs when throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. When your brain becomes deprived of oxygen, you suddenly wake up and gasp for air until the obstruction clears and you can breathe again. This cycle repeats itself dozens of times per night, and while you may not be aware of the constant disruptions in sleep, the toll on your body can be significant.
For example, studies show OSA increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, which can result in heart attacks, strokes and premature death. OSA also negatively affects your mood, your ability to concentrate and your sex life; and increases the risk of falling asleep while driving, a serious safety hazard. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association also links OSA to an increased risk of dementia in older women.
“Any one of these risks is reason enough to seek medical attention,” says Dr. Kimberley. “Even snoring without sleep apnea has been linked to a thickening of the carotid arteries, which places stress on the heart. The good news is that there are a variety of treatments that can help, beginning with your first visit to a sleep medicine specialist.”
That’s what Sue Brown found out when she and her husband walked into Dr. Kimberley’s office that morning. After listening carefully to her history of snoring and performing a thorough exam, Dr. Kimberley was able to perform an in-office coblation treatment, in which a laser is used to shrink the tissues in the back of the throat so they’re not as prone to block the airway during sleep. While it takes time for the tissues to shrink entirely, Sue and her husband did notice that her snoring wasn’t nearly as bad that same night.
Other treatments for snoring and sleep apnea include:
• Lifestyle modifications like losing weight (if necessary) and not drinking alcoholic beverages before bed
• Mechanical treatments like the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which blows air through a mask placed over the nose and keeps the airway open while you sleep
• Outpatient procedures like balloon sinuplasty, which can correct sinus and nasal obstructions that contribute to snoring; and the pillar procedure, during which tiny implants are inserted into the soft palate at the back of the mouth, stiffening the tissue and preventing it from vibrating during sleep
• Customized mouthpieces that hold the jaw forward and airway open during sleep
“The treatment for snoring is individualized and has to be based on the snorer’s individual anatomy and their personal preferences for treatment,” Kimberley says. The most important thing is to find a sleep medicine specialist who can accurately diagnose the cause of your snoring and work with you to find the right solution.”
Sue’s long-term solution also included a balloon sinuplasty to correct sinus problems, minor surgery to correct a deviated septum and a CPAP machine once a sleep study confirmed she had a mild case of sleep apnea. “It was a huge relief for me,” she says. “I could sleep beside my husband and not be worried that I disturbed him or that I would find him downstairs on the couch. So it was a tremendous relief.”
Sue has been “snore-free” since June, and wants to help other women overcome the shame that kept her from seeking help. “It’s not your fault; it’s not like you can choose to snore or not. You have a physical problem. Take control and change your life. You’re going to be amazed at how much better you feel, not only physically, but mentally.”
About Dr. Barry Kimberley
Dr. Kimberley is the founder of ENT & Sleep Associates in Minnesota and Kansas and is one of only 140 ENTs in the United States who is dual board certified in both sleep medicine and otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat). Most recently he has focused on a snoring and sleep care delivery model that allows for efficient, effective and often life-changing solutions for patients suffering from sleep disorders. He engaged Tunheim, the strategic communications agency I work for, to help spread the message about the health risks of and successful treatments for snoring and other sleep disorders. You can get more information at: www.entsleep.com or by calling (877) 368-7537.