April 21, 2003 -- It turns out snoring isn't just a big headache for the people trying to sleep nearby. New research finds that chronic daily headaches are common among nightly snorers, but it is not clear if the headaches cause the snoring or visa versa.
In the National Institute on Aging study, people with chronic daily headaches were almost twice as likely also to be chronic snorers as people with occasional headaches. The findings were even more significant when risk factors that cause snoring were considered.
"We have known that headaches are common in people with sleep apnea, but we found that snoring per se is an important predictor of headaches, even in people without apnea," lead researcher Ann I. Scher, PhD, tells WebMD.
Scher and colleagues compared 206 people with chronic daily headaches, defined as at least 15 headaches per month, with 507 people who reported having occasional headaches.
The researchers reported that 24% of chronic daily headache sufferers were also habitual snorers, compared with 14% of the occasional headache sufferers. After adjusting for characteristics associated with snoring, like obesity and drinking alcohol, daily headache sufferers were almost three times as likely to report nightly snoring as people who had occasional headaches. The study is published in the April 22 issue of the journal Neurology.
Scher hopes to do further studies to determine if interventions to stop snoring also reduce headaches in chronic sufferers.
"The headaches could be causing the snoring, or the snoring could be causing the headaches, or both," she says. "Chronic headaches can result in disturbed sleep, and pain medications can aggravate [snoring]. On the other side, sleep deprivation or excessive sleep can trigger migraine attacks in some people."
Headache specialist Stephen Silberstein, MD, says patients who have frequent headaches are not likely to be cured simply by stopping the snoring with breathing strips or other interventions. Silberstein is director of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia and is a professor of neurology at Jefferson Medical College.
"Snoring is merely a symptom," he tells WebMD. "I think it is important to find out why people are snoring. If they have sleep apnea then snoring strips aren't going to fix the problem. And if it is something else, they need to know what it is."
He says a common culprit in chronic daily headaches is overuse of medications. Certain medications can also cause snoring.
"Any acute medication taken in excess can produce daily headaches," he says.