Some people are suggesting it might be good news that loud snorers—who are typically overweight—use up more calories than those who sleep quietly. I'd say, to the contrary.
These are not the calories burned off during an aerobics class or a 20-minute jog in the park but rather an energy expenditure that reflects a body struggling to breathe instead of resting. And when those noisy fitful nights are habitual and cause daytime sleepiness, snoring is linked to chronic hypertension, elevated pressure in the arteries of the lungs, and a markedly greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
Loud snoring is often dismissed with humor or with irritation—by those in nocturnal earshot—when in fact the snore deserves the same respect and sympathy as is granted the wheeze of an asthmatic. And unlike most wheezes, heavy snoring is usually accompanied by spurts of dangerously slow or interrupted respiration so that oxygen in the blood drops. Falling oxygen sounds alarm bells, telling the body that its survival is being threatened. Adrenaline surges and, along with other protective responses, becomes a biological stressor that the body pays for in the long run.
For decades, doctors have observed the association between strokes and heart attacks and heavy snoring. More recently, studies have shown that these risks are not dependent on the older age or the excess weight of most snorers. In fact, Australian sleep researchers believe the independent heart risk could be as great as that of smoking or diabetes. Studies also have shown that snorers are six times more likely to have a heart attack at night compared with those who saw wood silently, who favor their cardiac trouble after the sun is up. In snorers with coronary disease, nighttime sudden death is also more common, which might be explained by faltering oxygen levels triggering lethal heart rhythms.
Not all snores are equal, and most doctors can help sort out the benign occasional snore that goes away with different sleeping positions from the one that is a nightly distress call—the kind that triggers what amounts to an unhealthy expenditure of calories.