Snoring and sleep apnoea

Why do people snore?    Why does an airway collapse during sleep?

The first thing you need to know is that snoring and sleep apnoea do not occur in people with a normal breathing pattern.

How often have you heard your spouse, your friend or work associate complain, “I couldn’t sleep last night because of his/her snoring”?  Snoring affects a huge proportion of the population, with many sources reporting statistics as high as 30 percent of people aged thirty and above, and up to 50 per cent in middle aged people, as being snorers.  A significant number of children also snore.

While snoring can be irritating and disturbing to others, it can have far greater implications for people’s health.  Other than waking unrefreshed, snorers commonly experience other side-effects, including headaches, fatigue, “restless legs”, and making gasping and suffocating noises during sleep.  Of deeper concern, some snorers’ heavy breathing can pause momentarily in what is known as apnoea (apnea), meaning “without breath”.  Sleep apnoea is a serious condition in which a sleeping person stops breathing intermittently for periods of up to a minute or even longer.  This puts them at an even greater risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disorders than heavy snoring does.

Fact: In a person with a normal breathing pattern, snoring and sleep apnoea are completely absent.

In each and every case, a person who snores or has sleep apnoea has faulty breathing.  Research has demonstrated that, like asthmatics, snorers breathe air at two or three times the normal volume, night and day.  (Radwan, 1995) That is, they habitually overbreathe.

Snoring is high-volume, high-speed breathing

Breathing through the mouth, too quickly and/or too heavily traumatises the airway. The result can be dehydration and swelling, congestion and narrowing of the lining. Mucus production increases and so does the release of histamine from mast cells in the airway. (Allergic response to depletion of carbon dioxide). As the throat muscles relax during sleep, the swollen and irritated throat tissue can vibrate, causing the noise we know as snoring.

Obstructive sleep apnoea – the vacuum effect

Over-breathing may create a vacuum effect in the airway.  Deep and rapid breathing can be likened to sucking too hard on a straw, in that if this sucking is intense enough, the “straw” may collapse in on itself, creating a blockage.  In snorers, this vacuum effect can temporarily obstruct your breathing, which is known as obstructive sleep apnoea.

Awake or asleep, the way you breathe is the fundamental cause of sleep- breathing disorders

Daytime breathing habits have a direct effect on the way our brain controls our breathing whilst we sleep. By consciously altering our daytime breathing we can retrain our brain’s inbuilt breathing control mechanism, meaning that almost immediately, we can experience a better night’s sleep. That’s what breathing retraining does.

Take the Faulty Breathing Quiz

Getting help

Breathing consultations in Canberra

Breathing courses in Canberra (small group 6-8 sessions)

Breathing workshops (half-day) (coming soon)

Book and CD on breathing retraining

Book * – Relief from Snoring and Sleep Apnoea: A step-by-step guide to quiet restful sleep and better health through changing the way you breathe. Tess Graham (Penguin 2012)
CD – Breathing Exercise Instruction CD  – a companion product to the book.


Retraining your breathing vs Traditional remedies

The traditional remedies for snoring and sleep apnoea are varied and some are quite invasive.  Our breathing retraining program for snoring and sleep apnoea does not use surgery or medical devices, but rather the personal “tools” which can assist you to transition to a healthy pattern of consistently slow, smooth and soft breathing. 

The medical techniques in use include:

§  Surgery: trimming the soft palate; opening or ‘reboring’ nasal passages; tongue and jaw surgery

§  Sleep with a dental device (Mandibular Advancement Splint)

§  Sleep with CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) – air-pump machine, tubing, face mask

 Sleep Mark


These types of medical interventions can be frightening or unbearable for some,  for others simply unpleasant and for some are not successful. Granted these treatments may help to alleviate the symptoms, however none of them are cures for the underlying breathing pattern disorder.  In the event that treatment with CPAP is helpful, generally the patient must be prepared to use the mask for life. (True CPAP compliance rate is estimated to be well below 50 per cent.)

Correcting your breathing is a far less intimidating option.  It is natural, non-invasive and relatively simple.  You can experience more restful sleep almost immediately, and enjoy ongoing improvement over time, simply by changing the way you breathe. 

A common comment several days into breathing retraining is: “I was breathing so quietly last night that my husband/wife had to prod me to see if I was still alive.”

Signs and symptoms commonly seen with sleep apnoea include:

Snoring or heavy breathing, interrupted by pauses (apnoea) of 10-90 seconds or more
Gasping, snorting or choking sounds during sleep
Mouth-breathing, dry mouth, dry throat
Frequent sleep disturbance
Restlessness, ‘restless legs’, kicking while asleep
Morning headaches
Waking unrefreshed, daytime tiredness
Daytime sleepiness, tendency to fall asleep in meetings, watching television
Depression, irritability
Memory loss, foggy thinking

Breathlessness with exercise

Sexual dysfunction

Many of these symptoms may also be seen in heavy snorers who do not have sleep apnoea.


Risks of sleep apnoea

Untreated snoring and sleep apnoea puts you at greater risk for some serious health disorders including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. It is believed that you are 2-7 times more likely to have an accident (road, machinery etc) if you are suffering from snoring or sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is usually diagnosed by a polysomnograph or ‘sleep study’.*

Two new studies link sleep apnoea to increased cancer risk

The relationship between sleep disordered breathing and cardiovascular risk is well documented. Now two observational studies are suggesting a strong link with increased risk of cancer. The new research marks the first time that sleep apnoea has been linked to cancer in humans.
Source NYT:
Wisconsin study abstract:


Radwan L et al, “Control of breathing in obstructive sleep apnoea and in patients with the overlap syndrome”, J. Eur Respir J. Vol 8, 1995, 542–545. 

* If you have not already been medically diagnosed with sleep apnoea and suspect after reading this that you do have it, go and see your doctor. Significant sleep apnoea is a very serious condition and needs to be addressed in one way or another without delay.

* Participants in breathing retraining programs are requested not to alter or cease medication usage or CPAP or oral appliance usage without first consulting their doctor.