Can you have sleep apnea without snoring?

Can you have sleep apnea without snoring? Before answering this question first lets understand the relationship between sleep apnea and snoring is crucial for promoting good sleep health. While snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, it’s not always present. Let’s delve deeper into this topic.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses can last for seconds or even minutes, causing a drop in blood oxygen levels. There are two main types:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most common type, OSA occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. This blockage can be caused by relaxed throat muscles, enlarged tonsils, or a narrow airway.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This type happens when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles responsible for breathing. It’s less common than OSA.

During sleep apnea episodes, the body briefly wakes up to restart breathing. This disrupts sleep quality, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness and other health problems.

What is Snoring?

Snoring is the noisy vibration of tissues in the upper airway during sleep. It occurs when airflow is partially obstructed, causing the tissues to vibrate. While snoring can be a nuisance to sleep partners, it’s not always a cause for concern.

Here are some common causes of snoring:

  • Obstruction of airflow: Narrowed airways due to enlarged tonsils, a deviated septum, or a thick tongue can cause snoring.
  • Relaxation of throat muscles: As you relax during sleep, the muscles in your throat can become floppy, narrowing the airway and causing snoring.
  • Alcohol and sedatives: These substances relax the muscles in the throat, increasing the risk of snoring.

Can You Have Sleep Apnea Without Snoring?

Not everyone with sleep apnea snores. While snoring is a common symptom of OSA, some factors can influence its presence:

  • Severity of sleep apnea: Milder cases may not cause loud enough snoring to be noticeable.
  • Sleep position: Snoring can be worse on your back compared to your side.
  • Anatomy: Some people’s airway anatomy may not cause significant vibration during partial obstruction.

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of other sleep apnea symptoms beyond snoring, such as:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Witnessed breathing pauses or gasping during sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea differs from obstructive sleep apnea in how breathing is disrupted. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Central Sleep Apnea: The brain fails to send proper signals to the breathing muscles, causing breathing to stop or become shallow.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A physical blockage in the airway prevents air from reaching the lungs.

Central sleep apnea often co-occurs with medical conditions like heart failure or neurological disorders.

Symptoms of central sleep apnea are similar to OSA but may also include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Frequent awakenings during the night
  • Feeling short of breath upon waking

Do I Have Sleep Apnea?

If you experience any of the following, consult a doctor to discuss the possibility of sleep apnea:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring with witnessed pauses in breathing
  • Frequent awakenings during sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Morning headaches

Doctors typically use a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. During a sleep study, you’ll be monitored overnight while you sleep, allowing doctors to assess your breathing patterns and oxygen levels.

Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?

Untreated sleep apnea can have serious health consequences. Here are some potential risks:

  • Cardiovascular problems: Sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Metabolic issues: It can contribute to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
  • Accidents: Daytime sleepiness can lead to car accidents and other work-related injuries.

Early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea are crucial for preventing these complications.

Can You Have Sleep Apnea Without Being Overweight?

While obesity is a significant risk factor for sleep apnea, it’s not the only one. Sleep apnea can occur in people of any weight. Other risk factors include:

  • Neck circumference: A larger neck circumference can indicate a narrower airway.
  • Family history: Having a family member with sleep apnea increases your risk.
  • Certain facial features: A recessed chin or small jaw can contribute to a narrowed airway.

Also Read: Sleep Hygiene: Tips for Better Sleep and Overall Health


Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder with potentially life-threatening consequences if left untreated. Recognizing the signs and symptoms beyond just snoring is crucial. If you suspect sleep apnea, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Taking charge of your sleep health can significantly improve your overall well-being.

Summary Table of comparison between snoring and sleep apnea.

FeatureSnoringSleep Apnea
DefinitionNoisy vibration of tissues in the upper airway during sleepSleep disorder causing repeated breathing pauses during sleep
CausePartial obstruction of airflowComplete or partial obstruction of airflow
SymptomsLoud snoringLoud snoring, witnessed breathing pauses, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating
Health RisksUncomfortable sleep for bed partnerIncreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and accidents

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What’s the difference between snoring and sleep apnea?

Snoring is a noisy vibration in the airway during sleep, while sleep apnea is a sleep disorder causing repeated breathing pauses. Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

2. I don’t snore, but I’m tired all day. Could I have sleep apnea?

Yes. Excessive daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of sleep apnea, even in the absence of snoring. Other signs to watch for include waking up gasping, morning headaches, and difficulty concentrating.

3. Are there different types of sleep apnea?

There are two main types:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The most common type, caused by a blocked airway during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea: Occurs less frequently when the brain is unable to communicate with the respiratory muscles.

4. What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Large neck circumference
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Certain facial features like a recessed chin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Alcohol and sedative use

5. How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

The most reliable method for identifying sleep apnea is a sleep study. During a sleep study, you’ll be monitored overnight while you sleep to assess your breathing patterns and oxygen levels.

6. How is sleep apnea treated?

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the condition. Common treatments include:

  • CPAP therapy: A continuous positive airway pressure machine uses a mask to deliver constant air pressure to keep the airway open during sleep.
  • Oral appliances: These devices worn in the mouth help keep the airway open.
  • Lifestyle changes: Weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side can improve symptoms.

7. If I leave sleep apnea untreated, what could happen?

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and even accidents due to excessive daytime sleepiness.

8. I’m concerned I might have sleep apnea. What should I do?

If you experience symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring with breathing pauses, or frequent awakenings during sleep, consult a doctor. They can assess your risks and recommend a sleep study if necessary.

Written by

Dr Hoorain

Hoorain Batul is a passionate and experienced writer specializing in gynecology, obstetrics, fashion, and women's wellness. Hailing from Pakistan, she holds an MBBS degree, having completed her studies in 2011, and has furthered her expertise with FCPS Part 1 and 2. With a deep understanding of women's health and a keen eye for fashion, Hoorain brings a unique perspective to her content, providing valuable insights and empowering women with knowledge to lead healthier and more fashionable lives. Her content is a hub of informative and engaging articles, catering to the diverse needs of women worldwide.