Snorers are more likely to have a heart attack than smokers or the obese, say researchers.
Far from being merely a nuisance, snoring could be the early warning sign of life-threatening health problems, they warn.
US researchers believe that the condition may cause a thickening of the arteries which can lead to brain haemorrhages, strokes and heart attacks.
Around a quarter of women and four in ten men are frequent snorers, although nearly half of us snore occasionally. Though it can interfere with our sleep – and that of our partners – it was not thought to cause any long-term health problems until recently.
American researchers claim the condition is as serious as having high blood pressure and urge snorers to seek medical advice.
A team from the University of Detroit found that frequent snorers are far more likely to develop a thickening of the carotid artery – which supplies oxygenated blood to the brain.
The condition has also been linked to hardening of other arteries in the body and can lead to heart attacks, strokes and brain haemorrhages.
Dr Robert Deeb, from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who led the research said: ‘Our study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting isolated snoring may not be as benign as first suspected.
‘So instead of kicking your snoring bed partner out of the room or spending sleepless nights elbowing him or her, seek out medical treatment for the snorer.’ Dr Deeb and his colleagues studied 54 men and women aged 18 to 50.
They had all filled in questionnaires about their snoring habits and then had ultrasound scans to look at the thickness of their carotid artery. The researchers found that the innermost layers of the artery walls were far thicker among the snorers than the other adults.
Dr Deeb added: ‘Snoring is generally regarded as a cosmetic issue by health insurance, requiring significant expenses by patients.
‘We are hoping to change that thinking so patients can get the early treatment they need, before more serious health issues arise.’
He said that the thickening of the artery may be caused by the constant vibrations of the snoring which results in inflammation.
The researchers now hope to carry out a larger study to see if snorers are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes. Dr Deeb, who has submitted his findings to the Laryngoscope journal for publication, said: ‘Snoring is more than a bedtime annoyance and it shouldn’t be ignored.
‘Patients need to seek treatment in the same way they would if they had sleep apnoea, high blood pressure or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.’
Last year researchers from the University of Wisconsin, in the US, said that snorers were more likely to die from cancer.
The study of 1,500 adults found that moderate snorers were at 4.8 times greater risk of death.