USA Today reports on sleep apnea, which left “untreated … can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes — and the sleepiness it causes can contribute to accidents at work and on the road, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.”
Sleep apnea also is linked with cognitive decline, and a study published recently strengthens that link. It shows that people with untreated apnea develop so-called “mild cognitive impairment” — memory loss worse than that typically associated with aging — about a decade sooner than otherwise similar people. They also develop Alzheimer’s disease faster.
So how do you know whether your snoring is the dangerous kind?
You can’t figure it out on your own, says Shalini Paruthi, a sleep medicine specialist at Saint Louis University and education chair for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “It’s really important to get it checked out by a doctor,” she says.
You should expect the doctor to take a full medical history, ask about the nature of your snoring — including whether a bed partner ever hears you gasping for breath — and ask about daytime sleepiness, Paruthi says.
For example, you might be asked if you get sleepy while reading, watching TV or driving.
Unexplained daytime sleepiness, even without snoring, is grounds for a sleep study, an overnight test in which your brain waves, breathing patterns and oxygen levels are recorded, say guidelines from the American College of Physicians. Ideally, the test is done in a sleep lab, but if that’s not possible (sometimes because insurers won’t pay for it) a portable home test is OK, the group says.