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Are You a Secret Snorer? Here’s Why That Matters

If you wake up to your own sounds (or have a partner nudge you awake to quiet you down in the middle of the night) you likely know that you’re a snorer: There’s easy—audible!—proof. But snoring, which occurs as a result of airflow being obstructed through the back of the mouth and nose during sleep, doesn’t always wake people up, says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator and Saavta sleep consultant.

In fact, while evening rumbles have sometimes even been documented at close to 90 decibels (the equivalent of a motorcycle revving its engine!), unless it’s a component of undiagnosed or untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a common condition that occurs during sleep when your upper airway gets blocked, temporarily stopping airflow—snoring usually won’t wake the snorer up. And if you sleep alone, you may not even realize you do it at all.

The thing is, you could be putting your health at risk without even knowing it. “Snoring is more than annoying,” says Cralle. On top of leading to poor sleep quality, “it is a serious risk factor for the development and progression of OSA and the poor health outcomes that accompany it” (read: an increased risk of daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, heart issues, and type 2 diabetes).

So, are you a secret snorer? Keep an eye out for these four signs you could be making noise at night and jeopardizing your health. Plus, find out how to stop snoring for good.

You wake up with a dry, sore, or scratchy throat

“Snoring is the result of the vibration of soft tissues of the upper airways and often is associated with obstruction of airflow,” explains Cralle. Think of it as “upper airway turbulence,” she says. And if there’s not enough airflow through your nose, you might breathe through your mouth, which could lead you to wake up with a seriously dry throat.

What to do about it: Sleeping on your side won’t narrow your airway as much as sleeping on your back will (a position that allows your tongue to slip back, potentially blocking the airway). Learning to side sleep can often help mild snorers rest quietly.

Your jaw hurts

If you suffer from a disorder with your temporomandibular joint (a.k.a., TMJ or TMD), you might be a snorer. That’s because the positioning of your tongue is directly impacted by the alignment of your teeth, which can get thrown off if your jaw is misaligned, leading your tongue to block your airway.

What to do about it: “There are dental appliances that work by moving the lower jaw forward,” says Cralle. “The devices increase the space at the back of the tongue. This approach is especially helpful for dealing with snoring and for mild to moderate sleep apnea.” Ask your dentist about having an appliance made. Certain postural exercises, which work to realign the body as a whole, could also naturally work to realign your jaw, alleviating the issue.

You have to pee in the middle of the night

Getting up to go to the bathroom more than normal during times when you could be asleep is a common symptom among snorers, says Cralle. “When we breathe against a closed airway, our heart produces a substance called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP). ANP is a potent diuretic and can increase urination during the night.”

What to do about it: If you notice you’re getting up more than normal, see your doc—especially if you notice other symptoms that could be linked to snoring. Frequent urination at night can also be a sign of OSA, says Cralle.

You’re a drinker or smoker

Alcohol and tobacco are significant contributing factors to snoring, says Cralle. “Alcohol selectively decreases muscle tone in the upper airway.” And when these muscles are weaker, the risk of snoring goes up. Cigarette smoke can also irritate the lining of the lungs increasing inflammation, thus decreasing airflow.

What to do about it: Cleaning up your lifestyle—cutting back on booze (or having your drink earlier in the evening, allowing your body more time to metabolize it before bed) and striving to go tobacco-free—can help your airways stay strong, leading you to a more peaceful slumber.

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Is it just snoring—or is it sleep apnea?

“Not all people who snore have sleep apnea, but most people who have untreated OSA do snore,” says Cralle. How to spot OSA: Snoring associated with sleep apnea often occurs in a crescendo pattern—with the loudest noises occurring at the very end, she says.

If you have sleep apnea, you might also wake up with a headache or not feel refreshed and or restored due to not only interruptions of sleep but also interruptions in breathing, she notes. You might even find yourself waking up gasping for air in your sleep or choking, clear signs that your breathing is periodically interrupted.

The American Sleep Association has a screening questionnaire if you think you could have OSA. But if you could be suffering, make an appointment with a board-certified sleep physician ASAP so you can get a definitive answer and start on a treatment plan, which could consist of anything from addressing underlying health conditions, cleaning up your sleep hygiene, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for constant airflow, or even surgery.

Acid reflux can also affect how well you snooze. Here are tips for keeping acid reflux from ruining your sleep.

Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor. She has worked on staff at both Shape and Men's Health and contributes regularly to a slew of national print and digital publications such as Women's Health, Condé Nast Traveler, and Furthermore for Equinox. With a degree in English and creative writing from the College of the Holy Cross, she has a passion for reporting on all things health, lifestyle, and travel.