6 Common Myths About Sleep Apnea

1. All loud snorers have sleep apnea

Most snorers don’t have sleep apnea. But most people with sleep apnea snore.

There is a positive correlation between snoring intensity and the severity of obstructive sleep apnea; that is, the louder you snore, the more likely you are to suffer from sleep apnea [1]. However, this does not mean that if you snore loudly you definitely have sleep apnea.

An apnea episode is defined by a period of no sound whatsoever. This is the part where your breathing has stopped. Therefore, sound profile alone is not a good predictor of sleep apnea and its severity.

Read SnoreLab’s insights into screening for, diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea.

2. Everyone with sleep apnea snores

This is less of a myth, and more of an almost-truth: up to 95% of people with obstructive sleep apnea snore [2]. It is rare to find someone with obstructive sleep apnea who doesn’t snore, though it does happen [3].

Importantly, you needn’t be a loud snorer to suffer from sleep apnea. Remember that an apnea episode is often characterised by a lengthy period of silence. You could still be suffering from sleep apnea even if your Snore Score is low.

This SnoreLab user has found an apnea episode (notice the long period of silence). However look at the chart – they are not a loud snorer!

However, central sleep apnea is not commonly associated with snoring.

Central sleep apnea is caused by the brain’s failure to regulate proper breathing during sleep. Here, the blockage is neurological as opposed to in your airway [4].

3. Only men get sleep apnea

Men are more likely to snore and have sleep apnea, but women can still suffer from both. It is estimated that twice as many men than women have sleep apnea [5]. Despite this, eight times more men are diagnosed with the condition.

The incorrect assumption of yesteryear was that for every sixty men who had sleep apnea, only one woman did. This false statistic came from a combination of heightened social stigma associated with female snorers and the fact that sleep apnea presents differently in women.

Sleep apnea’s severity is measured by counting the number of times breathing stops or is severely reduced during sleep. Women are less likely to experience complete airway collapse therefore tend to have a lower AHI score.

However, it is important to note that women aren’t necessarily experiencing less obstruction. Instead, they show more frequent episodes of longer, partial obstruction that can still cause the fatigue, daytime sleepiness and other health issues associated with sleep apnea [6].

Still, in a battle of the sexes, when it comes to snoring, men come out on top. Read SnoreLab’s article on the snoring differences between men and women.

4. I’m not overweight so I won’t get sleep apnea

Indeed, obesity is one of the strongest risk factors for developing sleep apnea, where 41% of people with a BMI over 28 have the condition [7]. However, because there are other risk factors associated with sleep apnea, you don’t have to be overweight to suffer from it.

Sleep apnea can also be caused by your genetics; whether that be a family history of sleep apnea or the shape of your airway. Chronic nasal congestion, drinking alcohol or taking sleeping pills, and even simply entering the menopause all confer an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.

5. Children don’t get sleep apnea

Despite snoring and sleep apnea commonly being associated with older people, studies have found that up to 4% of children experience sleep apnea, with some 12% of parents reporting that their child frequently snores [8].

Similar to the profile of adults with sleep apnea, overweight children and boys are more likely to develop the condition.

An increasing amount of research suggests that 25% of attention deficit disorder cases are linked to sleep fragmentation associated with sleep apnea [9].

Childhood obstructive sleep apnea is often due to the adenoids – glands in the back of the throat that disappear in adulthood, thankfully along with the apneas. Surgical removal of both the adenoids and tonsils often resolves childhood sleep apnea.

Read more about snoring’s link with age

6. I’d know if my breathing stopped in the middle of the night

Not being able to breathe is an uncomfortable experience, so you’d think you’d remember it. Plus, the pauses in breathing that characterize sleep apnea are only relieved when your body kicks into action to open your airway, briefly waking you up. This awakening however, is below the threshold of conscious recognition; commonly referred to as a microarousal.

In some very severe cases of sleep apnea, patients have as many as one-hundred breathing pauses per hour, some as long as thirty seconds at a time. Yet they perceive a night of constant sleep and wonder why they feel so tired in the morning. Susan, a SnoreLab user thought that she may have mild sleep apnea at worst, her sleep study results showed she in fact had very severe sleep apnea. You can read Susan’s story here.

Whilst you are unlikely to identify your own apnea episodes, a partner can definitely be disturbed by them. If you are concerned about potential sleep apnea, ask your partner if they’ve ever heard your breathing stop in the middle of the night.

This question is often asked in sleep apnea screening questionnaires which you can do here.

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  1. Maimon N and Hanly PJ. Does Snoring Intensity Correlate with the Severity of Obstructive Sleep Apnea? Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2010; 6(5): 475-478. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20957849
  2. Hoffstein V, et al. Snoring: is it in the ear of the beholder? Sleep 1994; 17(6): 522-526. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7809565
  3. Ebato A, et al. Cessation of Snoring Without Apnea-Hypopnea Improvement During Oral Appliance Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Journal of Dental Sleep Medicine 2018; 5(4): 131-135. http://dx.doi.org/10.15331/jdsm.7026
  4. Donovan LM and Kapur VK. Prevalence and Characteristics of Central Compared to Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Analyses from the Sleep Heart Health Study Cohort. Sleep 2016; 39(7): 1353-1359. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27166235
  5. Garvey JF, et al. Epidemiological aspects of obstructive sleep apnea. Journal of Thoracic Disease 2015; 7(5): 920-929. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26101650
  6. Wimms A, et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Women: Specific Issues and Interventions. BioMed Research International 2016; 2016: 1764837. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/1764837
  7. Vgontzas AN, et al. Sleep apnea and sleep disruption in obese patients. Archives of Internal Medicine 1994; 154(15): 1705-1711. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8042887
  8. Lumeng JC and Chervin RD. Epidemiology of Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea. American Thoracic Society 2008; 5(2): 242-252. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2645255/
  9. Youssef NA, et al. Is obstructive sleep apnea associated with ADHD? Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2011; 23(3): 213-224. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21808754

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