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We Asked An Expert: Can You Have Sleep Apnea Without Snoring?

By Ashley Hinson
Sleep apnea is frequently associated with snoring, but it is possible to have the disorder without exhibiting snoring.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts breathing while you sleep. With obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the disorder, these interruptions originate in collapsed throat muscles that obstruct the airwayoften resulting in snoring. But can you have sleep apnea and not snore? We consulted an expert to find out. 

Can You Have Sleep Apnea and Not Snore?

“When someone snores, you have a narrowing of the airway because people have excessive amounts of soft tissues in the nasal passages. With that narrowing, you hear this acoustic sound, and that’s where snoring comes from,” Chidinma Chima-Melton, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, but is it possible to have sleep apnea and not snore? In short, yes. While snoring indicates the blockage of the upper airway, it does not always indicate sleep apnea. Additionally, you’re more likely to snore if you have sleep apnea, but having the sleep disorder doesn't automatically mean you'll snore. 

In fact, Mayo Clinic notes that snoring often does not factor prominently in the symptomology of central sleep apnea, a rarer form of the disorder. This is because central sleep apnea is rooted a faulty connection between the brain and the muscles that control breathing, rather than obstruction of the upper airway. 

If you think you might have sleep apnea but you're not snoring, it can be helpful to look for other abnormal sleep behaviors and daytime symptoms, including:

  • Nocturia
  • Gasping 
  • Headaches 
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent naps

“Even if you’re not snoring, if you have sleep apnea and are symptomatic with it, it is important that you get treated because it improves your overall sleep quality. Your concentration improves. Your memory improves as well. For moderate and severe sleep apnea cases, regardless of if you have any symptoms, they need to be treated,” Chima-Melton says. 

Whether or not you snore, sleep apnea can lead to debilitating health conditions. 

“We see things like your increased risks of diabetes, heart disease and heart failure, and stroke, not to mention the quality of life issues like memory issues,” Chima-Melton says. 

People with sleep apnea are often advised to improve their diet and exercise regularly. In addition to diet and exercise during the day, CPAP machines can help regulate your breathing while you sleep. 

“CPAPs apply airway pressure. Initially, patients don’t love it, and then they finally get a good night’s sleep. When you’re having so much collapsing of your airway, your oxygen levels dip down, and the brain is starved for oxygen. It’s a strain on the heart and there are physiological consequences down the line. With a CPAP, you’re not experiencing that,” Chima-Melton says. 

Think you may have sleep apnea? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.