Why you shouldn't ignore this breathing disorder—especially if you have diabetes

Snoring is a noisy nighttime nuisance that's often played for laughs on television and in the movies. But sometimes, it's no laughing matter. Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition that afflicts roughly 18 million Americans—many of whom also have diabetes.

In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that people with diabetes, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, have a high risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. What's more, some studies suggest that sleep apnea may make it harder to control blood glucose. Equally concerning, sleep apnea raises the risk of high blood pressure and of heart disease and stroke—both leading causes of death and disability among people with type 2 diabetes.

Although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, it could be a sign that you might have it. If you have diabetes and haven't yet taken your snoring seriously, read on to find out why you should.

Fragmented sleep

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that interferes with one of the most fundamental aspects of your existence: breathing. When you sleep, your whole body relaxes, including the muscles that move air in and out of your lungs.

Normally during sleep, the airway remains open just enough to keep oxygen flowing into the body. However, some people have very narrow airways in the back of the throat that close or "collapseā€"during sleep. The characteristic "sawing wood" sound occurs as air tries to force its way through the obstructed passage.

Some people who snore have airways that shut very tight—so tight that for stretches lasting 10 seconds or more, the person barely takes in any oxygen and even ceases breathing altogether. Doctors call the period when respiration stops an "apnea episode."

Fortunately, when oxygen levels get too low, an internal "alarm" goes off, triggering the brain to wake up the body and breathe. Although the startled sleeper awakens briefly, typically with a choke or gasp, he falls back to sleep. Initially, breathing is normal, but the cycle is likely to recur hundreds of times throughout the night.

Publication Review By: Rita Rastogi Kalyani, M.D., and Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 24 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015