Chronic snoring is a common issue that affects around 25 percent of American adults, and their co-sleeping partners. Snoring is not only a noisy nuisance — it may also be a sign of sleep apnea. Not everyone who snores has this underlying condition. For those who do, snoring can lead to heart failure.

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is a chronic, progressive condition that requires medical treatment. Heart failure develops over time, if your heart does not pump out enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

Sleep apnea can lead to heart failure. It’s a disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start repeatedly, while you’re asleep. There are two types:

Let’s go over the connection between snoring, sleep apnea, and heart failure.

Snoring is not necessarily a sign of heart failure. It can, however, be a sign of sleep apnea. Since sleep apnea can lead to heart failure and other serious conditions, it’s important to determine the underlying cause of snoring, especially if it’s chronic and loud.

Central sleep apnea, the less common type, occurs when the brain stops sending signals to the muscles of the diaphragm that control breathing.

Snoring is typically caused by obstructed breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea causes brief interruptions in breathing to occur at least 20 to 30 times an hour during sleep. These constant sleep interruptions cause a drop in oxygen blood levels. When your oxygen level drops, your brain jolts you into wakefulness so you’ll take a deep breath. People typically don’t remember these occurrences, even though they may happen hundreds of times a night.

The interruptions in breathing also cause a surge in cortisone and adrenaline, two stress hormones, to occur. These hormones contribute to heart failure and high blood pressure. They can also trigger heart attacks.

The constant jolt of waking up places an ongoing strain on your heart and entire cardiovascular system. Waking up many times a night also robs you of the deep, regenerative rest needed for overall health.

Obstructive sleep apnea usually causes loud snoring. Other symptoms include:

  • gasping
  • snorting
  • choking
  • waking up startled by your own snoring
  • waking up many times during sleep
  • consistently waking up with a morning headache or dry mouth
  • extreme daytime fatigue

The symptoms caused by central sleep apnea may be similar but can vary. Central sleep apnea doesn’t always cause snoring. When snoring does occur, it may be less loud or intense as snoring caused by obstructive sleep apnea. Other symptoms of central sleep apnea include:

  • abrupt awakenings during sleep with shortness of breath
  • insomnia
  • extreme daytime fatigue
  • changes in mood
  • consistently waking up with headaches

Additionally, the following are primary symptoms of both types of sleep apnea, even though many people don’t think to connect them to the condition:

Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea have different underlying physiological causes. OSA is caused by upper airway obstruction and the blockage of air flow. CSA is caused by problems with brain signaling that disrupts regular breathing.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat (pharynx) collapses during sleep. This happens when muscles that support the soft tissues of the upper airways relax and narrow, blocking the natural flow of air throughout the respiratory system. In order for your heart and body to be healthy, air must flow in an unobstructed way from the mouth and nose down into the lungs.

OSA rates are higher among African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics. Researchers believe this may be likely because these groups have higher likelihood of having obesity. It can occur in people of any age, but is more likely to occur in people over 50, and is more common in men than in women. In women, obstructive sleep apnea is most common after menopause.

Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs if the brain stops signaling the diaphragm to contract and expand. The diaphragm is a muscle that helps control breathing.

Taking narcotics, such as opioids, can cause CSA. So can sleeping in high elevations when you’re not used to it.

Underlying health conditions, including those that affect the lower brain stem, can also cause central sleep apnea to occur. They include congestive heart failure and stroke.

Central sleep apnea can happen to people of any age, including infants. However, it is most common in older adults.

Snoring doesn’t always mean you have sleep apnea. However, if you or your partner notice ongoing sleep apnea symptoms, including snoring, see a doctor.

A doctor can analyze your symptoms and, if necessary, run tests for heart failure, such as a:

You may be referred to a sleep specialist. This doctor uses a specific type of overnight test, called a polysomnography, to monitor respiration, movement, and heart function while you sleep. For several hours, a polysomnography records your:

  • brain waves
  • heart rate
  • breathing
  • blood oxygen level

It also records your leg movements and eye movements during sleep. This test can be used to diagnose sleep apnea and other conditions, such as restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.

Common questions about snoring and sleep apnea include:

Can snoring cause heart attack?

Snoring is not a direct cause of heart attack, but sleep apnea is a risk factor. When snoring is caused by sleep apnea, a surge in cortisone and adrenaline occurs each time you’re jolted awake during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times a night. These stress hormones, over time, can be a risk factor for heart attack.

What are the other effects of snoring on the body?

Snoring can cause fatigue, memory fog, and irritability during the day. Long-term snoring can cause type 2 diabetes as well as heart failure, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. It may also be a symptom of central sleep apnea, a less common type.

Sleep apnea is a risk factor for heart failure. It is also a risk factor for high blood pressure, arrythmia, and high blood pressure.

If you or your partner snore loudly and excessively, contact a primary care doctor or a sleep specialist for testing.