Snoring is a common occurrence:
- Around 50% of all people snore at some point in their lives.
- Approximately 40% of men and 24% of women snore habitually.
- Men become less likely to snore after the age of 70.
For most people, snoring isn't indicative of a potentially serious health problem. However, some people's snoring is due to sleep apnea, which can be serious.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring happens when your airways are blocked, which could be the result of a number of causes.
- Obstructive sleep apnea is when the sleeper stops breathing many times throughout the night, often results in heavy snoring, and can be a serious problem.
- Smoking can dry out mucous membranes of your throat, leading to snoring.
- Having a cold or allergies that generate excess mucous can obstruct airways, resulting in snoring.
- Swollen tonsils: this could be a temporary or permanent problem that leads to snoring.
- A deviated septum resulting from birth or an injury can obstruct airways, leading to snoring.
- Excessive amounts of alcohol can relax someone to the point that the throat relaxes and blocks the airway.
- Some medications can also relax the throat, causing snoring.
- Sleeping on your back can obstruct your airway.
- Men are twice as likely to snore as women because their larynxes are lower in their throat.
- Being older increases the chances of snoring due to less muscle tone and our airways narrow as we get older.
- If you have a large uvula or soft palate, your chances of snoring go up considerably.
- Pregnancy can increase swelling in your mucous membranes.
- People who are overweight often have poor muscle tone, and/or excessive fatty tissue in the throat that can restrict airways.
Symptoms of Snoring
The most common symptoms of snoring are waking up with a dry mouth and throat and a headache, waking up suddenly during the night, or waking up gasping for air.
Other symptoms of snoring involve your partner's lack of sleep and frustration. This can lead to what's known as a "sleep divorce," where partners sleep in separate rooms. If partners can't come to some kind of resolution, problems in the relationship can occur, which is much more likely if one or both partners are chronically tired.
How to Stop Snoring
- Sleep on your side. Since snoring is most likely to happen when you're on your back, sleeping on your side is one of the most immediate solutions. To do this, you can place a pillow snugly behind your back to prevent you from rolling onto your back. Or you can search for nightshirts that you can place tennis balls in that will make it uncomfortable if you turn onto your back.
- Practice throat-expanding exercises. Before you sleep or even during the day, you can sing, say each of the vowels out loud and hold the note for a few seconds, and if you have the control of your muscles, practice expanding your throat and holding it for a few seconds several times per day. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that regular playing of the didgeridoo is an effective treatment alternative for people with sleep apnea.
- Clear your nasal passages before you sleep. If your snoring is due to congestion in your nose, using a saline solution with a neti pot, or using a nasal decongestant can open up your airways. If you have allergies, make sure you're following protocols to reduce dust mites and other allergens from your bedroom and your home.
- Keep your bedroom air humid. Dry air can irritate the membranes of your nose and throat, causing them to swell, and reducing the size of your air passages. A simple room humidifier can remedy that.
- Anti-snoring devices. There are several apparatuses that will create space in your throat, usually by bringing your jaw and tongue forward. One of my favorites, that I've tried, is from ZQuiet.
- Internal nasal dilator or external strips. If your nose collapses when you inhale through your nose, you may benefit from more space in your nasal cavity. You can wear strips that go on the outside of your nose, or there are small plastic pieces that go inside of your nose.
- Lose weight. More muscle tone and less fatty tissue will reduce the severity of your snoring and may even eliminate snoring entirely.
- Elevate the head of your bed. This can be done with an adjustable bed frame, or by propping yourself up with a couple of extra-large pillows, which will reduce the effect of gravity, keeping your airway open.
- Limit alcohol. As alcohol can relax your throat muscles, not drinking for a couple of hours before bed and not drinking excessively during the day, can make a difference.
- Change your medications. If you suspect that one of your prescription medications is causing you to snore, talk to your doctor about changing medications.
- Take naps. A 15-minute nap in the early afternoon can help reduce your sleep deficit, keeping you from being overtired at night.
- Use a CPAP machine. Continuous positive airway pressure machines can keep your airway open. These are used for people with sleep apnea, so speak to your doctor about it.
- Get palatal implants. This procedure, also known as a pillar procedure, is where polyester filament is injected into your soft palate.
- Somnoplasty. This newer treatment involves using low-intensity radio waves (that create heat) to shrink the tissue of your soft palate, opening up more space for you to breathe through. It's performed by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) under local anesthesia.
- LAUPPP (laser-assisted uvulopalatopharyngoplasty). This is minimally invasive surgery that removes excess tissue from the soft palate and uvula, and sometimes the tonsils, adenoids, and excessive throat tissue are removed as well.
How to Talk to Your Partner About Their Snoring
Snoring can cause problems in relationships, especially when the non-snoring partner isn't getting enough quality sleep. Lack of quality sleep can lead to reduced control of emotions, which can result in worse fighting over the snoring.
Snorers don't realize how loud they are because they can't hear themselves snoring, and therefore don't understand why their partner is upset. If your partner doesn't seem to take you seriously when you talk to them about making some changes to stop or reduce their snoring, one option is to record them snoring so they can hear how loud it is.
In the meantime, some partners of snorers will wear earplugs, or sleep in a separate room.