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Can You Have Sleep Apnea Without Snoring?

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A husband and wife sleeping, the wife is covering her ears due to a loud snoring sound of her husband with apnea.

A good night’s sleep is essential for your health, but snoring and sleep apnea can be an unpleasant nightly experience. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that impacts your breathing patterns while you sleep. 

While snoring is a common and frequently associated symptom of sleep apnea, it’s possible to have sleep apnea without snoring. 

You may not realize you have sleep apnea. However, if you experience exhaustion or sleepiness during the day or have unexplained morning headaches, visit your sleep clinic dentist to get a diagnosis. Or you can take our sleep apnea quiz to see if you have sleep apnea. 

Understanding the different types of sleep apnea, their symptoms, and the relationship between sleep apnea and snoring can help determine what treatment options work best. 

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes your breathing to stop while you sleep. These repeated breathing pauses or ‘apneas’ can last 10 to 30 seconds throughout the night.

Most times, it’s family members or a partner who first notices signs of your sleep apnea. Symptoms of sleep apnea can include:

  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Loud snoring followed by silent pauses
  • Gasping for air or choking during sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Morning dry mouth
  • Irritability or mood changes
  • Poor concentration or memory loss
  • Frequent naps
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Falling asleep while driving
A woman sitting in front of her computer is yawning, feeling tired and sleepy during the day. A sign of possible  sleep apnea.

3 Types of Sleep Apnea

There are 3 types of sleep apnea—the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), while central and complex are rare:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The upper airway gets blocked during sleep when the throat relaxes. Causes include:

  • Throat muscles or soft tissue at the back of the throat closing
  • The airway narrowing
  • A large tongue or extra fatty tissue in the throat blocking the airway  

For these reasons, you can’t get enough oxygen and oxygen levels in your blood decrease. As your brain senses this, it wakes you so the airway can reopen. 

When you wake up, it’s usually brief, and you may gasp for air or choke. The pattern repeats throughout the night, anywhere between 5 to 30 times each hour, affecting the quality of your sleep.

Factors that can increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight: fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct breathing
  • Neck circumference: with a thicker neck, you might have narrower airways
  • A narrowed airway: this can be inherited
  • Gender: men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women. Women’s risk increases with excess weight and after menopause.  
  • Age: obstructive sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults
  • Family history: family members with sleep apnea might increase your risk
  • Alcohol, sedatives, or tranquillizers: can relax the muscles in your throat
  • Smoking: can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway
  • Nasal congestion: people who have difficulty breathing through the nose are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea
  • Medical conditions: can increase your risk
  1. Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. In this type of sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This lack of signaling from the brain leads to interruptions in breathing or breathing pauses, which is why snoring is not a symptom of central sleep apnea. Factors that can increase your risk of central sleep apnea include:

  • Age: those middle-aged and older are at a higher risk of central sleep apnea
  • Sex: this type is more common in men than in women
  • Heart disorders: congestive heart failure increases your risk
  • Narcotic pain medications: can increase your risk
  • Stroke: prior stroke increases your risk
  1. Complex Sleep Apnea

Complex sleep apnea is a mix of obstructive and central sleep apnea. It’s also known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea because the type of apnea becomes apparent after it doesn’t resolve with treatment for OSA. 

Relationship Between Sleep Apnea & Snoring

Snoring is the sound of air moving through a narrow airway when you sleep. It can be caused by a blocked airway, alcohol use, sleep deprivation, and even sleep position. 

While snoring is common with sleep apnea, and you’re more likely to snore if you have sleep apnea, you can have sleep apnea and not snore. In central sleep apnea, the body doesn’t try to breathe, so there is no snoring. 

Snoring may not pose any serious side effects. But it can affect sleep quality or be a symptom of a health problem, such as obstructive sleep apnea. 

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Treatment for sleep apnea can include lifestyle changes to improve sleep. A take-home sleep study can assess your symptoms and determine the best treatment option for you.

Treatment for sleep apnea and snoring can include:

  • CPAP: continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device opens the throat to increase breathing and reduce snoring
  • Oral appliance therapy: promotes the opening of the airway to provide better sleep 
  • Solea sleep: a non-surgical laser procedure to treat palatal snoring

Sleep Apnea Management for Better Sleep

With or without snoring, diagnosing sleep apnea can lead to effective treatment. Book an appointment with Palermo Village Dental to discuss our treatment options and help you sleep restfully throughout the night. 

Written by Dr. Christopher Blair

Dr. Christopher Blair completed his Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree at the University of Toronto. He is an avid cyclist and has often combined his passion for cycling with charitable endeavours. Most notably, Dr. Blair is passionate about his efforts to raise funds to support kids living with cancer and who are cancer survivors. Through his participation in Tour for Kids, Dr. Blair has raised thousands of dollars to support Camp Trillium, Camp Quality, and Camp Oochegeas, 3 camps in the Toronto area that support kids living with cancer.

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