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Snoring and Sleep Apnoea: What’s the Difference?

Snoring and sleep apnoea - What is the difference?

Is there a difference between snoring and sleep apnoea?

Many, many people of all ages snore – as many as 50% of men and 30% of women – and this is certainly an annoyance for your sleeping partner if you are one of them. It also has negative impacts on your sleep quality, daytime performance, and wellbeing. 

But what about sleep apnoea? 

Is it different from snoring? 

Do you have it? 

And why does it matter? 

Despite their close association, there is a significant difference between snoring and sleep apnoea. Snoring is, in fact, merely a symptom of sleep apnoea. For your health and wellbeing, you should understand where the two conditions overlap and what signs of sleep apnoea to be aware of. Your overall health and longevity depend on managing sleep apnoea and mitigating its risks if it is the cause of your snoring.

Snoring versus Sleep Apnoea

Snoring occurs when the soft tissues of the nasal cavity, mouth, and throat relax too much while you are asleep. When this happens, the airways become narrowed. The soft tissues vibrate and the snoring sound we are all so familiar with occurs, whether it arises from the nasal passages, the back of the throat, or deeper within the neck. 

Several things cause snoring, including:

  1. Nasal congestion due to allergies
  2. Ear/Nose/Throat infection, such as a viral illness
  3. Deviated septum
  4. Large tonsils or adenoids
  5. A large or overly floppy uvula
  6. Being overweight or obese (especially when the neck carries a lot of fat)
  7. Cigarette smoking
  8. Drinking alcohol
  9. Cigarette smoking
  10. Sedative use

While nowhere near as common as snoring, sleep apnoea is also quite a common disorder. Specifically, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a serious medical condition that results in the airways collapsing and becoming blocked during sleep. It is more common in men, though women become more vulnerable to it after menopause, likely due to hormonal changes. 

Sufferers of OSA can stop breathing for 20-30 seconds up to a couple of minutes at a time before they wake up, choking or gasping for air. Breathing cessation can happen many hundreds of times every night.

Where Do Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Overlap?

Not all people who snore have sleep apnoea, but everyone with sleep apnoea snores. Several warning signs signify that you need to see your doctor: 

  • Your sleeping partner notices your snoring is in tandem with noticeable pauses in your breathing which can occur repeatedly throughout the night. 
  • You are a noisy sleeper. This noise includes snoring, choking, snorting, and gasping – and the louder you are, the more likely you have OSA. 
  • You toss and turn. Sleep apnoea sufferers tend to be restless sleepers, and often have trouble getting a restful night’s sleep. 
  • You’re always tired. Is it difficult to get up and going in the morning? Do you nod off in the afternoon or evening while reading or watching TV? Do you have a daily 3pm slump?  Are you cranky or headachy in the morning? Do you often feel run down?  You may have sleep apnoea – especially if you also snore.


People at higher risk of developing OSA:

  • Men
  • Postmenopausal women
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • People who have a family history of OSA

The Major Difference Between Snoring and Sleep Apnoea

Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnoea. 

The main difference between the two conditions is that, with OSA, nightly snoring is associated with significant pauses in breathing. These are noticeable to (and can be quite alarming for) your sleeping partner. 

Pauses in breathing occur because breathing stops as the airways collapse and become blocked. The person with OSA will snort, choke, or gasp for air – yet they may not wake up. This pattern repeats many times a night – and the sufferer might have no idea about what is happening to them. 

Health Implications

Snoring disrupts sleep and has physical, mental, emotional, relationship implications: 

  • Daytime irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Diminished cognitive performance 
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory issues
  • Anxiety & depression
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of workplace and traffic accidents 
  • Long term risk of developing chronic health conditions 

Sleep apnoea causes all of these too, however, the health implications are much greater. 

If it is not treated and managed, OSA can lead to:

  • Obesity
  • Heart arrhythmias 
  • Accidents
  • Daytime Microsleeps
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, & stroke
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Increased likelihood of developing cancer

You need to see your doctor if you or your partner suspect you may have sleep apnoea. This will include an assessment of your medical and family history and a check of your nose, mouth, and throat. You’ll also be weighed and your BMI will be calculated to determine whether you are overweight or obese.

Sleep apnoea itself can’t be detected during a routine physical examination. You may be referred for a formal sleep study, which will either be lab-based or involve using a home-based monitoring device. You may also need to keep a sleep diary. 

Diagnosis is essential for proper management to maximise your health and improve your quality of sleep. 

You may be advised to:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Lose weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Sleep on your side
  • Raise the head of your bed
  • Wear a mandibular advancement device to open your airways
  • surgery (tonsil removal, septum repair, etc)
  • Use a CPAP machine during sleep to open your airways

Some people will be advised to undergo surgery if anatomical abnormalities like oversized tonsils or a deviated septum are contributing to your problem.

World-Class Anti-Snoring Device: ApneaRx

Mandibular advancement devices such as ApneaRx, have been safely prescribed by health professionals for decades to treat the symptoms associated with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

ApneaRx is a world-class anti-snoring device available in NZ that gets great results for adults of all ages and is affordable, safe, and easy to use. Explore how it can help improve the quality of your sleep.

Purchase ApneaRx online now.  

You may also call us on 0800 111 325 in NZ (Monday-Friday 11 am-6 pm) or use our contact form.