A: My husband says I'm snoring all the time now that I'm pregnant. What's causing this, and should I be worried?
Take heart -- more than a third of pregnant women snore, even if they didn't before pregnancy. But while snoring may seem like just a minor annoyance, the noisy nighttime condition may raise your risk for complications, including slowed fetal growth. One Swedish study found that pregnant snorers were more than twice as likely as non-snorers to develop hypertension or preeclampsia and their babies had lower birth weights and poorer Apgar scores.
So what's happening, exactly? During sleep, snorers' upper airways relax and partially close, preventing them from inhaling enough oxygen and exhaling enough carbon dioxide. The excess carbon dioxide in their system triggers blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and reducing blood flow, including to the placenta.
Unfortunately, the hormonal changes, weight gain, and fluid retention (which can swell the upper airways) that come with pregnancy put moms-to-be at higher risk for both snoring and sleep apnea, a related and more serious condition in which a person momentarily stops breathing up to 800 times nightly.
Aside from a complaining spouse, the major clue that you snore or suffer from sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness. Both conditions can repeatedly stir you from deep sleep, and even if you don't remember waking in the night, you may wake feeling exhausted. Of course this fatigue can be tough to distinguish from the usual fatigue of pregnancy. But if you nod off within minutes of lying down, regardless of the time of day, it could be a red flag.
If you're looking for snoring relief, don't bother with over-the-counter nose strips such as Breathe Rite -- they're effective for snoring due to nasal congestion, but not for pregnancy-related snoring. Instead, you might consider a nondrug treatment for sleep apnea and snoring called continuous positive airway pressure. While probably not the most comfortable remedy (during sleep, the snorer wears a nose mask attached to a machine, which blows a constant flow of filtered air through the nose and throat, keeping the upper airways from narrowing or collapsing), it can help lower risks for up to 90 percent of snoring pregnant women with hypertension or preeclampsia. --Marguerite Lamb