Smoking and snoring have one thing in common: They affect you and everyone around you. Although people tend to focus on the way that smoking affects the lungs, there are other issues that you should consider. Smoking has a tight relation to snoring due to the way it changes the nasal and throat passages. It’s a risk factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) for the same reasons.
If you or a loved one smokes and snores at night, there are plenty of reasons to worry. Fortunately, there are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. A good treatment plan for smoking and OSA can decrease the smoking and lessen health complications.
The way that smoking affects the body’s airways establishes a solid connection between smoking and snoring. Snoring starts when the body has to force air through unusually-shaped pathways. This could be a factor of genetics, but other factors play a role.
As someone smokes a cigarette, the smoke inflames their airways. It can also encourage mucus production, which makes people feel stuffy. Congestion itself is a common cause of snoring. As a result, people who smoke are over twice as likely to snore as people who don’t smoke. Some researchers believe that secondhand smoke also makes people more likely to snore, although they admit this requires more study.
Having an occasional problem with snoring is one thing. Dealing with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, one of the most common causes of regular snoring, could be a matter of life and death. Sleep apnea describes several periods throughout the night in which a person isn’t breathing. The body panics and wakes them up to start breathing again.
Although it seems like people just periodically have issues with this, it is more frequent than you might think. People who have OSA could have apnea events as often as once a minute for hours throughout the night. Waking up once or more every few minutes can drastically drop your sleep quality. Sleep deprivation leads to health, emotional and behavioral problems throughout the day.
OSA is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The longer OSA goes untreated, the more likely a person is to develop serious health problems as a result. Some of these issues are permanent.
Smoking creates issues in the body that can have indirect effects on a person’s ability to breathe while sleeping. The same airway constriction and inflammation that triggers snoring can make the airway that much harder to get air through consistently throughout the night.
Someone who is already predisposed to OSA is going to be more likely to encounter problems at a younger age. People can start having sleep apnea at any age, but it tends to set in around middle age. Smoking makes the other risk factors worse. This means that apnea could start during a person’s 20s or 30s instead of their 40s.
It’s not surprising that smoking can make OSA worse. Did you know that undiagnosed or untreated OSA might be making it harder to quit smoking? Researchers have done a few studies concerning the issue. The results pose interesting questions for the diagnosis and treatment of OSA in people who smoke regularly.
The first association is easy to understand. If you’re sleep deprived, you are more likely to rely on stimulants to keep you awake and alert throughout the day. For some people, that is a morning and afternoon cup of coffee. For others, it’s a cigarette.
Since nicotine tends to decrease sleep quality through its stimulant quality, smoking makes the cycle of poor sleep worse. People wake up even more tired than before, and could ramp up the smoking to make up for it. As such, although having OSA doesn’t necessarily encourage you to start smoking, it could make it harder to quit.
In addition, some researchers speculate that people with OSA might be more likely to smoke more due to the way that sleep apnea affects them. Hypoxia–an inadequate amount of oxygen in certain parts of the body–is known to physically create more opportunities for the nicotine to bind in the body. This affects the body’s reward centers and the way nicotine metabolizes, often translating into a higher smoking frequency.
Unlike many other stimulants, smoking poses some problems for the people interacting with the person who smokes. Studies on the effects of secondhand smoke on people’s sleep is somewhat limited. Evidence suggests that regular exposure to secondhand smoke could make sleep quality worse and even increase the occurrence of nighttime breathing issues.
One study looked at children with asthma who lived in a home with someone who smokes on a regular basis. It showed that these children are more likely to have disordered breathing and daytime sleepiness as a result of that smoke exposure. Since sleep is such an important part of a person’s health, especially children, decreasing this exposure to improve sleep is a fair goal.
As many people who have tried to quit smoking in the past know, there’s no way to completely undo the damage smoking causes. However, quitting smoking does seem to have beneficial effects. People who don’t have OSA yet are less likely to develop it if they quit smoking, since the airway inflammation from smoking decreases relatively quickly.
People who have OSA should consult their doctors before engaging in any pharmacological plan to quit smoking. Research indicates that many sleep cessation aids available by prescription or over-the-counter pose little risk to sleep quality or breathing while sleeping. However, some medications commonly used for this purpose could change the way people sleep in ways that might increase the frequency of apnea at night.
There is not a lot of research to support the idea that getting OSA under control could make it easier for people to quit smoking. However, it makes logical sense. Sleep quality and smoking are cyclical conditions. The worse your sleep is, the worse it gets. The more you smoke, the more you need to smoke.
Knowing the connection between sleep deprivation and smoking frequency, improving your ability to sleep well at night could decrease your need to use stimulants to stay awake during the day. If you use oral appliances or CPAP to open your airway at night, you will clear the biggest barrier to better sleep.
For most people, the best way to decrease these symptoms and their risk of long-term health complications from OSA is to stop smoking. This is usually much easier said than done. Smoking, along with any other addictive substance, is designed to be hard to quit. People may gain a benefit from taking a variety of approaches, including:
For some people, wearing a simple device during rest can help to clear their airways enough to promote better breathing and sleep at night.
If you or someone in your home smokes, it could be causing all kinds of health problems related to your family’s sleep. Improving it could start today when you schedule a consultation with one of the sleep medicine experts at Premier Sleep Associates. To learn more about how we can help with your snoring or sleep apnea, call us at (425) 698-1732.