Occasional snoring is usually harmless, but regular or habitual snoring can lead to a variety of health issues. One common condition linked to snoring is metabolic syndrome. Understanding the link between snoring and metabolic syndrome can help you improve your health if you have one or both of the disorders.
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions and risk factors that increase your chances of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. There are five factors associated with metabolic syndrome:
If you meet at least three of these criteria, you will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. This condition isn’t a disease in itself, but all of these risk factors can lead to other diseases.
Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
Most of the conditions and risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome have no symptoms. Some signs are obvious, like a large waist circumference. Others, like high glucose or high blood pressure, can be measured by your doctor. These signs don’t usually cause any noticeable symptoms in the patient, though. You could go years meeting the criteria for metabolic syndrome without feeling any unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms.
Metabolic syndrome does sometimes cause symptoms, but these typically only become noticeable when the issue is severe.
How Is Metabolic Syndrome Related to Sleep and Snoring?
Several studies have found a link between snoring and metabolic syndrome. Those who snore regularly seem to be at an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and the related conditions.
There are a few possible explanations for this connection. Snoring may affect the quality of your sleep, making you tired during the day. When you’re tired, your body produces more ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry, and less leptin, the hormone that tells you when you’re full. If you’re constantly tired, you may overeat. This can lead to increased blood sugar levels, increased levels of bad cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat, which are all criteria for metabolic syndrome.
The link between sleep apnea and metabolic syndrome may be even stronger. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your airways become blocked and you stop breathing while you sleep. You’ll eventually wake up and gasp for air before falling asleep again. This can happen hundreds of times per night, even if you don’t remember it.
Waking up suddenly causes your blood pressure to rise, which is one factor of metabolic syndrome. Sleep apnea also prevents you from getting enough oxygen. This causes your body to increase its levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can cause insulin resistance. Eventually, insulin resistance can lead to increased blood glucose.
Studies on Metabolic Syndrome
One study involved 812 participants who were all free of metabolic syndrome when the research began. They were each given a sleep questionnaire to report their sleeping and snoring habits. Three years later, the participants were all assessed for metabolic syndrome. About 14 percent were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, and those who were loud snorers were twice as likely to develop the syndrome.
Another study in Stockholm tested women between the ages of 30 and 65 for metabolic syndrome. The researchers found that those who snored had a much greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those who didn’t snore.
A study in South Korea involved over 72,000 subjects grouped into categories based on how many times per week they snored. Those who snored six or more times per week were more likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who never snored.
All three of these studies show that there is some link between snoring and metabolic syndrome. This doesn’t necessarily mean that snoring causes metabolic syndrome or that metabolic syndrome causes snoring, but the two are somehow connected. Snoring may predict metabolic syndrome, even if it’s not the direct cause.
Who Should Be Worried?
If you only snore occasionally and don’t have any of the signs or symptoms of metabolic syndrome, you probably don’t need to worry. Habitual snorers and people with sleep apnea may need to be more careful that they don’t start showing the signs of the syndrome.
Obesity is a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome, especially if most of your excess fat is in your abdomen. Obesity can cause high insulin and blood sugar levels, which are both signs of the syndrome. Some hormone imbalances can lead to metabolic syndrome as well. Your risk also increases as you age.
How to Lower Your Risk of Getting Metabolic Syndrome
If you snore or have some of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome, you should try to reduce your risk by making healthy lifestyle changes. These are also the changes doctors recommend to those who already have metabolic syndrome in order to prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. This will help balance your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and it can help you lose excess abdominal fat. Don’t ever think that it’s too late to make a change because it is not.
Overweight and obesity are associated with metabolic syndrome, especially if most of the excess fat is in the abdominal area. Losing weight reduces your risk of high blood pressure and other risk factors.
Exercising is a great way to lose weight, but it has other benefits as well. It can lower your blood pressure, combat insulin resistance, and help balance your blood glucose levels. Don’t forget that your overall well-being will improve if you maintain your weight and stay in a good shape.
Treat Your Snoring Problem
Although snoring might not be the direct cause of your metabolic syndrome, there’s a chance that your snoring habit may lead to certain risk factors. Try sleeping on your side instead of on your back, or prop your head up with some extra pillows. You can also use oral devices or a CPAP machine to stop snoring.
See Your Doctor Regularly
Regular checkups with your doctor will ensure that your weight, glucose levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure are all within the normal range. Your doctor can also give you advice about snoring treatments if you’re concerned that your snoring will affect your health.