Differences Between Snoring and Sleep Apnea

In the UK, over 40 percent of the adult population snores and over 25 percent of them are habitual snorers. Snoring is more common in males than in females, and the problem usually gets worse as we age. While we all agree snoring is bothersome to other people who are trying to sleep in the same room (or house), the person who has the problem always suffers the most.

Snoring is often a sign of a sleeping disorder, and not every snore is just a snore. Sometimes, loud snoring indicates that something much more serious is going on in your system. An estimated thirty percent of the population have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and the first and most noticeable sign of the disorder is loud snoring.

But, does that mean that snoring equals to having sleep apnea? In this article, we will discuss snoring, sleep apnea, and the differences between them.


Snoring does much more than just annoy our partners. It often leads to a lack of sleep and poor sleep quality. According to sleep studies, over 90 million Americans snore, and half of them may have sleep apnea. However, the other half doesn’t have OSA. While it’s true that sleep apnea almost always causes loud snoring, not every case of snoring is caused by sleep apnea.

With sleep apnea, we are talking about a serious condition that stops your breathing and wakes you up in the middle of the night. Regular snoring is less invasive and it doesn’t usually wake up a person. One of the best ways to tell the difference between regular snoring and sleep apnea is to learn about the symptoms of sleep apnea because snoring is just one of them, even though it’s the most prominent one. If you don’t wake up at night gasping for air, and you don’t feel fatigued all day long – you may be snoring due to other issues. Not everyone with sleep apnea is fatigued throughout the day, but this symptom is very common in sleep apnea.

Nasal congestion, mouth breathing, breathing fast and hard can cause snoring. Sometimes, even a wrong-sized pillow which causes head tilt and narrowing of the airways can cause a person to snore.

Reasons for snoring aside from OSA:

  • Age: The muscle tone of our throat decreases as we reach middle age. Our throat becomes narrower, and it may cause or contribute to snoring.
  • Physical characteristics: Men with a large neck circumference (greater than 17inches) have narrower air passages.
  • Sinus and nasal congestion: When mucus blocks your airways, it makes breathing very difficult and may cause snoring.
  • Being overweight or obese: Excess fatty tissue around the neck and throat often leads to snoring, and so does poor muscle tone in that area.
  • Alcohol, smoking, sleep medicine: All three can cause your muscles to relax, which can lead to snoring.
  • Sleeping position: When it comes to snoring and sleeping on your back, it’s not a myth – snoozing on your back is the most uncomfortable position you could choose. Among other things, it causes the tissue in your throat to relax and block the airway – and a blocked airway produces snoring sounds.

Anything that makes your breathing passages narrower will cause snoring.

Sleep Apnea

The sound of snoring occurs when there is a blockage in the air passages in the back of your mouth and nose. In this part of the airway, the upper throat, tongue, soft palate, and uvula meet. Snoring happens when they vibrate as you breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airflow blockage is so severe that it leads to partial or completely blocked airflow that causes the person to stop breathing.

Sleep apnea can be a serious disorder because it causes a person’s breathing to stop while they’re sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, and it occurs when the throat collapses while you sleep. The most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring.

Obstructed sleep in adults may happen due to various reasons, or a combination of several factors. It’s sometimes challenging to identify and treat sleep apnea, but once diagnosed, there are treatments available. Sometimes surgery is the best option, but many people manage to control sleep apnea through exercise and the right treatment. If untreated, it may lead to serious problems like heart disease and high blood pressure. 

Signs of sleep apnea:

Some of the most common signs of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud, continuous snoring
  • Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air
  • Morning fatigue or headache
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration during daytime
  • Depression, irritability, or sudden mood changes throughout the day
  • Decreased libido
  • High blood pressure
  • Night sweating

How to determine if snoring is linked to sleep apnea?

If you are a snorer who constantly snores regardless of your sleeping position, you should seek medical advice to make sure you don’t suffer from sleep apnea. An ENT specialist can use a fiberoptic scope to conduct a thorough examination of your mouth, nose, throat, palate, and neck.

A detailed exam will reveal if your snoring happens due to allergies, nasal obstruction, infection, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Often, doctors conduct a sleep study at the premises or at home to determine if the patient snores due to obstructive sleep apnea.

When to see a doctor:

Consider consulting a specialist if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Snoring loud enough to upset other people in the house
  • Awakening suddenly, gasping and choking
  • Extreme daytime fatigue
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep

While many people may think snoring is funny or annoying, it may be so much more than that, including a sign for something potentially serious. However, not everyone who snores has a sleeping disorder.