Snoring can be a troubling problem for couples. The person who snores often is unaware of it, but their spouse is forced to deal with a noisy saw night after night. Sometimes it is a small saw, and sometimes it sounds like a chainsaw. Once the spouse is awake they will often try to do something to wake up the snorer, such as making loud noises, shaking the bed or even kicking their partner. Pretty soon both people are lying awake, angry with each other. It can be a vicious cycle.
40% of adults snore, and it is more common among men than women (although post-menopausal women snore almost as much as men). It is also more common among those who are overweight.
Although children snore much less frequently than adults, still roughly 10% of all children snore frequently. The most common cause of this is that their tonsils are large in comparison to the size of their throat. As they grow up this will often resolve itself.
Snoring is related to sleep apnea, but is not the same thing. With snoring the airways are partially blocked, whereas with sleep apnea they become completely blocked.
Similar to sleep apnea, the snoring comes about because the muscles and tissues in the throat relax while sleeping. They become floppy, and the air pathways narrow. If they narrow too much, the floppy muscles vibrate, which is what causes the sound of snoring. The more narrow the airways, the louder the snoring.
This is why overweight people are more likely to snore, and why the likelihood of snoring increases with age. In both of these cases the throat muscles are thicker and floppier than in younger people.
What Causes Snoring?
The key components of the throat that are usually involved in snoring are the soft palate, tonsils, tongue and uvula. There are some particular factors that usually contribute to a person’s snoring:
Physical Structure – some people are born with narrower airways or floppier throat muscles. Others may have a deviated septum, which, if severe enough, can cause snoring.
Decreased Muscle Tone – As we age we lose muscle tone, and not just in the obvious places like biceps and calves. The muscles in the throat weaken, too, allowing the walls of the throat to close in and hang looser
Obesity – This is probably the most common contributor to snoring. As we put on weight our body is storing fat, and some of that fat is in the throat, narrowing the airways.
Congestion – Snoring often springs up temporarily when a person has a cold or is suffering from allergies. In these cases a decongestant will often help, though if it also makes you drowsy that may counteract the benefits to reducing snoring.
GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) – GERD is a condition where the contents of the stomach leak up into the esophagus. The sensation is like heartburn, though the discomfort is often felt higher up than the stomach, and even up to the chest.
This is caused by a weak or floppy sphincter muscle where the esophagus connects with the stomach. When this happens at night while sleeping it can cause a person to cough, choke, need to clear their throat and snore. For more about GERD, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001311/ at the PubMedHealth.gov website.
Alcohol – Many people think drinking alcohol before bed helps them sleep better. This is a common myth that I have debunked in another article here. Not only does it not improve sleep, it greatly contributes to snoring – especially if you are intoxicated. This is also true of certain medications and over the counter drugs, including sleep medications.
What Can You Do about Snoring?
There are several options, as it turns out, for dealing with snoring. These are divided into two main categories – nonsurgical and surgical.
Losing weight – If you are overweight, losing some weight will usually stop, or at least greatly reduce snoring.
Quitting Smoking – Again, if you smoke this is a likely solution. Easier said than done, but it will usually take care of the problem.
No alcohol or other drugs at night – This includes sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, and other kinds of depressants.
Modifying your sleep position – I’ve commented elsewhere about changing your sleep position to help with neck and back pain. If you snore only in certain positions this can be an effective treatment. For example, if you only snore while on your back, learn to avoid that position. You can accomplish this by practicing going to sleep in other positions, or by making it uncomfortable to sleep on your back by attaching a ball or other object to the back of your pajamas.
Raise the Head of your Bed – Some people have found that by raising the head of their bed just a few inches higher than the foot of the bed they could eliminate snoring. Propping up on pillows won’t do the trick, though. The bed itself should be raised. Some beds have adjustable legs. Or you can place a couple of 2×4 boards underneath the legs on the head of the bed.
Humidifers – A humidifier is often used to deal with congestion while sleeping. It helps to keep the nasal passages warm, moist and clear, which may reduce or eliminate snoring – especially if you are normally congested at night. They also help if you live in a dry climate. The humidifier pictured is one of the best low-cost humidifiers available right now, if you are interested.
Nasal Strips – Normally these are associated with athletes. They work by holding open the nostrils to allow more air flow. But it is more than just the nostrils. They actually work to lift and open the whole nasal passage. Nasal Strips are effective for many people in reducing snoring, though it probably won’t solve the problem completely.
Decongestants – As mentioned earlier, if your snoring is caused by congestion, an over the counter or prescription decongestant may help. Popular prescription brands include Flonase, Nasonex and Rhinocort. Prescriptions tend to work better than over the counter types, which usually lose their effectiveness after a few days.
Dental Devices – You would be surprised at the number of dental devices available to you these days. There are two basic kinds of devices – those that pull the lower jaw forward, and those that prevent the tongue from falling into the back of the throat. The first kind are most popular and effective. These work by attaching to your upper jaw and the forcing the lower jaw forward. The tongue retaining kinds use a suction ball to hold the tongue. If you decide to try a dental device you must get it from your dentist. You can make permanent changes to your tooth and jaw structure if you attempt to wear a dental device that has not been properly fitted for you.
Surgical Treatments for Snoring
There are several different types of surgery that can be done to correct the problem. These should only be considered after non-surgical methods have been exhausted. On average surgery has about a 50% success rate in permanently treating snoring.
Since I am not a doctor, I cannot make recommendations as to which surgery is best for you, or whether it is even necessary. Discuss your options with your doctor or a sleep specialist. Of course whichever surgery you might be given will be determined by the cause of the snoring.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) – This type of surgery is also used to treat some cases of sleep apnea. The Uvula, tonsils and some of the tissue along the soft palate are removed. Recovery is similar to that of a tonsillectomy – A couple nights’ stay in the hospital and a couple weeks of painful sore throat.
Laser-assisted Uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) – A laser is used to shorten the uvula, and also to make several small slices in the soft palate. These cuts, as they heal, tighten the tissue in the area which helps with the floppy, loose flesh in that area. This surgery can be done on an outpatient basis and recovery is very simple. The throat may be sore for a few days to up to a week, but not as painfully as with UPPP. This procedure can be repeated if it doesn’t solve the problem the first time, and often is done a few times in a patient.
Somnoplasty – As with LAUP, this procedure can be done on an outpatient basis with local anesthetic. Radio waves are sent into the loose, floppy muscles and tissue that are causing the partial obstruction of airways, which causes them to shrink and tighten. The procedure only lasts a few minutes, causes no bleeding and the pain is even less than with LAUP. The procedure can, and often needs to be, repeated to have full benefits.
Palatal Implants – As the name suggests, implants are placed in the soft palate. These implants are small rods that provide firmness to the palate and keep it from collapsing. They are easy to insert, and they can be removed if they cause discomfort or are ineffective.
As mentioned before, a tonsillectomy or correcting of a deviated septum may also be performed if it is determined that they would correct the cause of snoring.
Although snoring is not a serious health risk, in and of itself, it is often indicative of, or a precursor to, sleep apnea, which is a potentially life threatening condition. Further more, there are side effects of snoring (i.e. poor sleep quality) that can contribute to an increased likelihood of accidents, mistakes, poor performance, etc. Because if these concerns, if you snore you should tell your doctor about it. He or she may recommend some form of treatment, or ask you to seek a sleep specialist.
Note: A couple links above (humidifier and Breath Right Strips) are affiliate links. If you use them to purchase these items from Amazon it won’t cost you any more, but I will earn a tiny percentage of the price.