Difference Between Sleep Apnea and Snoring  

Key Difference – Sleep Apnea vs Snoring

The key difference between Sleep Apnea and snoring is that Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of irregular breathing during sleep caused by an obstruction in the  transient upper airway while snoring is just the vibration of respiratory structures and the resulting sound due to partial obstruction to the air passage during breathing at sleep. However, snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Apnea is defined as each pause in breathing which can last for several seconds to several minutes, and it may recur at least 5 times in an hour. Hypopnea is defined as abnormally shallow breathing. When breathing is paused, carbon dioxide accumulates in the bloodstream. Chemoreceptors in the blood stream detect the high carbon dioxide levels which try to wake the person from the sleep and breathe in air. Breathing will restore oxygen levels, and the person will fall asleep again. This continues as cycles leading to irregular breathing pattern. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with a sleep test called a polysomnogram (sleep study).

Obstructive sleep apnea is recognized as a problem by others witnessing the individual during episodes or as the results of the complications occurred due to sleep apnea as the person is not aware of it.  Symptoms may be present for years without identification due to this factor.

Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, impaired alertness, excessive snoring, daytime fatigue, a slower reaction time, vision problems. Obstructive sleep apnea can increase the risk of driving accidents and work-related accidents. Rarely, even death could occur in untreated cases due to lack of oxygen to the brain.

Risk factors include male gender, overweight, over the age of 40; a large neck size (greater than 16–17 inches), enlarged tonsils, enlarged tongue, small jaw bone, gastro-esophageal reflux, allergies, sinus problems, family history of sleep apnea, or deviated nasal septum causing obstructions. Also, alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilizers can promote sleep apnea by relaxing the throat muscles. These factors should be addressed when treating a patient with obstructive sleep apnea.

Behavioral therapy, offering continuous positive airway pressure by an external device or surgical procedures (sleep surgery) in selected cases are used to treat sleep apnea.Difference Between Sleep Apnea and Snoring-sleep apena

What is Sleep Snoring?

Snoring is the vibratory noise of pharyngeal wall during sleeping. It can be loud and unpleasant. Snoring during sleep may be the first sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring causes sleep deprivation to snorers and those around them, daytime drowsiness, irritability, lack of attention, etc. Treatment includes general measures such as stopping smoking, losing weight as well as specific procedures to clear the upper airway passage. Sleep Apnea vs Snoring

What is the difference between Sleep Apnea and Snoring?

Definition of Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Sleep apnea: Sleep Apnea is defined as paused breathing during sleep.

Snoring: Snoring is defined as the vibratory noise occur during sleep.

Characteristics of Sleep Apnea and Snoring


Sleep apnea: In sleep Apnea, the dominant symptom is daytime sleepiness.

Snoring: In snoring, the dominant symptom is noisy breathing during sleep.

Risk of complications

Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea can lead to serious complications such as pulmonary hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary circulation)

 Snoring: Snoring has less risk of complications.


Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea needs sleep studies in the diagnosis

Snoring: Snoring usually does not require special investigations.


Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea usually needs some form of therapy.

Snoring: Snoring is usually can be controlled with behavioral and risk factor modification. However, it is important to exclude underlying sleep apnea in a patient with snoring.

Image courtesy:
“Airway obstruction” by Drcamachoent – Own work. (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons 
“Snoring on SW Trains” by Stanley Wood (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr