Snoring vs Apnea – What is the Difference?

Are you snoring and waking up your partner at night? Do you keep wondering if you have sleep apnea because of how much you snore? One myth that needs to be thrown out of the window is everyone with a snoring problem suffers from sleep apnea.
While there are some similarities and common risk factors between sleep apnea and snoring, the root of snoring and the difference between them is the reason why treatments are different.

What is the difference between Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Symptoms of Snoring

The difference between snoring and sleep apnea is snoring happens when the throat has relaxed and the tissues in the throat start vibrating when breathing. Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the airways are get obstructed or completely blocked, which results in gaps in breathing. Throughout the night, sleep apnea causes breathing to start and stop and the oxygen levels in the blood drop because the airway is blocked. Snoring doesn’t cause any drop in oxygen levels because the airway isn’t blocked.

Another difference is the type of snoring that happens throughout the night. Snoring can keep your spouse awake, but it is not going to wake you up throughout the night. If you have sleep apnea, you will have poor quality sleep, which leaves you feeling fatigued and exhausted throughout the day. The daytime sleepiness and poor sleep quality have been associated with sleep apnea and can cause depression, mood swings, and unproductive days.

If you want to differentiate between the two, you need to look at the types of snoring that happen throughout the night. Sleep apnea causes louder and more frequent snoring. When snoring because of sleep apnea, a person wakes up gasping for air. The sound produced when snoring from sleep apnea is a choking noise.


The similarities between sleep apnea and snoring are there and the symptoms can overlap sometimes. With both, you can wake up with a sore throat or a dry mouth. When you snore whether because of sleep apnea or just simple snoring, your mouth is open, which means there is no barrier stopping germs from entering your body. This increases the likelihood of illness.

The risk factors are another similarity between sleep apnea and snoring. Weight contributes a lot to both sleep apnea and snoring. Weight gain causes those who have sleep apnea or snore to have a narrowed airway, which leads to both sleep apnea and snoring. If you have a deviated septum or your nasal passages are chronically congested, then you might find it a little hard to breathe properly throughout the night.

What is the cause of snoring?

About half of adults in the US snore, which means there are many other people out there who snore at night.
Snoring is caused by the relaxation of muscles in your mouth, tongue, and throat. The airway can narrow down when the tissues relax, which causes vibrations that create the snoring sound. The noise levels of the snore vary.
Some of the causes are:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Mouth or sinus anatomy
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • Weight
  • Deviated septum
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sleeping position

Drinking a lot of alcohol before going to bed is not good because it causes the throat muscles to relax. It also decreases the body’s natural reflex so the airways remain unobstructed and open. Gravity is going to work against you if you sleep on your back and the throat will narrow. Sleep apnea can cause snoring.

What is the cause of Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. This type is caused by obstructions or blockages in the airway that cause a person to stop breathing.

Some of the causes are:

Nasal congestion
Alcohol consumption

Genetically, the size of your throat, neck, and adenoids can result in a narrow airway. With age, the risk of developing sleep apnea goes up. Smoking increases the chances of your upper airway getting inflamed and retaining fluid, which increases the risks of sleep apnea.

What is the Harm?

Sleep apnea is being taken more seriously now than before because doctors have realized how serious the condition is.
People suffering from sleep apnea can stop breathing 30 times in just an hour. This causes poor sleep quality and deprives the body of oxygen, and this makes it hard for the body to get rid of carbon dioxide. This can lead to headaches, excessive sleepiness, and many other health problems.

NIH says that obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of:

Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
Heart attack, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and diabetes
Driving or work-related accidents

How to Know if you have Apnea

It is hard for you to know whether you are suffering from sleep apnoea unless someone points out that you have been gasping and snoring. The condition cannot be detected by doctors during routine office visits and there is no blood test to diagnose it.

This condition is more common in overweight people, but it can affect anyone.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea. The doctor can recommend a number of things to determine whether you have obstructive sleep apnea. Some of them include;

Having a sleep diary

You are going to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks, and then bring it with you during the next doctor’s appointment.
Note down the time you sleep, take naps, and wake up. Write how much sleep you get each night and how rested you feel in the morning and also how sleepy you feel throughout the day. The doctor will be interested in knowing how loudly you snore, how often, and if you choke or gasp when you sleep (you can ask your spouse or family member).

You also need to find out whether there is a history of sleep apnea and snoring in your family.

Physical exam
The doctor is going to have a look at your mouth, nose, and throat to see if there are large or extra tissues. Kids suffering from sleep apnea can sometimes have enlarged tonsils.

Sleep studies
The most accurate way to test sleep apnea and its severity are through sleep studies.

There are two types:
Polysomnogram (PSG). It is the most common. It records eye movement, brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, air movement through the nose, oxygen levels in the blood, chest movements, and snoring. Chest movements are monitored because it shows whether the body is making an effort to breathe or not.

The test is painless and it is done in sleep labs or sleep centers. Sensors are going to be attached to your face, scalp, limbs, chest, and fingers before you go to sleep. The sleep specialist is going to evaluate the results and recommend the right treatments based on their findings.

Home-based portable monitor. The doctor can recommend you get a home-based portable monitor. It records the same information as the PSG. The sleep specialist is going to look at the results and then decide whether you need to go for the full study in a sleep center.

Is snoring a sign of sleep apnea?

Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. If you snore normally, you are not going to get periods in the night where you stop to breathe. If you find yourself snoring a lot at night, then you should have a closer look at lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, weight gain, smoking, and sleeping on your back. Making simple changes to your lifestyle can help a lot. If you have been told you snore a lot, it doesn’t mean you automatically have sleep apnea. Try to find out more about it or visit sleep specialist.