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Asking for a Friend: Is Snoring Really So Bad?

There are two times you can brush off snoring as no problem: when you have a cold or seasonal allergies and after a night of drinking, says Kathleen Bennett, D.D.S., the president of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Both of these things can make you more prone to snoring—when you’re sick, it's because you’re congested (which narrows your nasal passages), and when you’ve been drinking, it's because alcohol is a depressant, so it makes your airways more collapsible. (Ask the Diet Doctor: Alcohol and Immunity.) 

Otherwise, we hate to tell you, but snoring is kind of a big deal, says Shalini Paruthi, M.D., the Education Committee chair at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It’s usually a warning sign that you have at least some degree of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when you stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. (Always Tired? Sleep Apnea Could Be to Blame.) This keeps you from falling into restful, deep sleep. As a result, sleep apnea can cause severe daytime fatigue, and increase your risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, Paruthi says. A new study in the journal Neurology even found that snoring and sleep apnea can harm your brain, speeding the progression of memory loss as you age.

In short, it’s usually not a good thing. If you snore three or more nights a week, Bennett suggests visiting a sleep dentist for treatment. (Find one at localsleepdentist.com.) There are several possible remedies: Since snoring is often worse when you sleep on your back, many people find it useful to get something like Back Off Anti-Snoring Belt ($30; amazon.com), which encourages you to sleep on your side, says Paruthi. (Don't miss these 12 Common Sleep Myths, Busted.) 

Your sleep doctor may also recommend oral appliance therapy—a type of mouth guard that pulls your jaw slightly forward to keep your airways open all night, adds Bennett. Snoring can also be corrected with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and surgery—but these are more invasive options typically reserved for the most extreme cases of sleep apnea.

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