Is It Just a Simple Snore or Sleep Apnea: Here’s the Difference

sleep apnea vs snoring

Sleep is the best form of rest. But have you ever felt tired and exhausted even after your eight hours of sleep? Does your roommate, or partner (or even your neighbors) complain about your snoring throughout the night? If that’s the case, you might want to dig down deeper into your sleeping habits.

Snoring is a common sleep disorder. But if it is keeping you (and your partner awake) repeatedly during the night, it can be a precursor to something worse, like sleep apnea. 

Ignoring the symptoms can lead to potentially serious, long-term health conditions.

Why do we snore?

Several factors contribute to snoring. Simply understood, snoring is the sound that is produced when the soft palate in the back part of our mouth vibrates. It’s simple physics!

When we sleep, the muscles in our tongue and soft palate become more relaxed and collapse together. This narrows down the air passage which makes the soft palate vibrate when we breathe.

The sleeping position also contributes to snoring. When you sleep on your back, your tongue falls back toward your throat and blocks the airway, and you are more likely to snore.

Similarly, if your nasal passages are congested due to cold and allergies, you will experience occasional snoring because of the narrow airway for air to travel through.

The frequency and intensity of snoring also depend on your lifestyle, drinking habits, and your age. Excessive drinking habits are likely to aggravate snoring because alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat.

Age is a common factor in snoring. As you grow old, the muscle tone around your throat decreases, thus, narrowing the opening of the airway.

However, snoring is not the same as sleep apnea. As long as you have no significant issues like complete obstruction of breathing when you are sleeping, there is nothing to worry about. 

There is a fine line between a simple snore and sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is more than just a simple snore. It is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition of breathing disorder where the person experiences a frequent and brief interruption of breathing during sleep. It can happen up to 30 times in an hour, each of them lasting from a few seconds to minutes, often followed by choking or gasping for air.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are two types of Apnea, viz. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea characterized by abnormally loud snoring. It occurs like normal snoring when the airway is blocked during sleep by the relaxed tissue of the soft palate, throat, or tongue.

Central Sleep Apnea is a rare condition in which the central nervous system, or brain, causes a breathing problem when it fails to signal the chest muscles that regulate breathing patterns. As a result, there is no snore.

Besides, there are some cases of mixed sleep apnea in which the brain fails to control breathing accompanied by OSA.

The difference between simple snore and sleep apnea

Snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, but not all patients with sleep apnea snore. The main difference between simple snoring and sleep apnea is how you feel afterward throughout the day, along with other symptoms evident with the latter.

Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Sleep apnea interferes with both the quantity and quality of sleep, because the breathing stops several times during the sleep, moving you out of a deep sleep cycle. As a result, you have to wake up several times to breathe during the night, thus, reducing the quality and quantity of the sleep that you get.

Daytime Fatigue and Drowsiness

A simple snore has nothing to do with the quality of your sleep. But sleep apnea is a bit more complicated than that.

You may not be aware of waking up during the night gasping for air, but if you suffer from daytime fatigue and over-exhaustion even after a good night of sleep, it might be a sign of sleep apnea.

Unsafe drop in blood oxygen level

In addition to poor sleep, the oxygen level in your bloodstream is reduced as your body can’t get rid of carbon dioxide properly. You should not have such problems with simple snoring because there is no complete blockage in your airway.

Pauses in breathing

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is complete obstruction of the airway due to relaxed throat muscles and other tissues. As a result, there are frequent pauses in breathing, up to 30 times in an hour, each of them lasting for more than 10 seconds.

Gasping and Choking

The pauses in breathing are often followed by sudden gasping, snorting, or choking during sleep as you struggle to catch a breath. This rarely happens with a simple snore.

Extremely loud snoring

If the previously light or occasional snoring progressively develops into heavy and violent snoring, it is the indication of sleep apnea, which can occur throughout the night. Simple snoring is usually light and infrequent.

What can you do about it?

Let’s face it: snoring is not pleasant to any ear. Whether it is a simple snore or sleep apnea, it is going to keep your roommate, or partner, or even the entire neighborhood up. The good news is that its treatment is available and effective.

Although simple snoring doesn’t have any health implications, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor and diagnose it to see if you are on the verge of sleep apnea. If untreated and ignored, the health consequences of sleep apnea can be deadly.

Oftentimes, the simple cases of sleep apnea snoring can be cured with certain lifestyle changes, such as regular exercises, losing weight, avoiding alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and even as simple as changing your sleeping position.

More serious cases of sleep apnea would require special treatments such as surgery, muscle therapy, or using anti-snoring devices like nasal strips.



Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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