What Causes Snoring?
Normally, snoring is caused by vibration or weakness in two of the main structures in your throat, the uvula and the soft palate. The uvula and the soft palate vibrate and create that snoring sound whenever you cannot get enough air through the breathing passage – and since your nasal cavity is connected to all this as well, an obstruction here will cause snoring too.
There could be several reasons for this airflow to be impacted:
- Your jaw might be tensed up or mispositioned during sleep.
- It could be general weakness in the throat while lying down – causing it to “collapse” on itself during sleep. Just sleeping on your back can be an issue, as gravity forces whatever tissue is in the back of your throat (like your tongue) to sink down and create an obstruction.
- Drugs or alcohol could be relaxing your throat muscles.
- There could be an excess amount of fat deposited into the back of your throat.
- There could also be an obstruction in your nasal passages.
The Impact of Snoring
Snoring is normally discarded as a minor medical irritant, but it’s not:
- Snoring can cause sleep disruption – for both the snorer and anyone who is awakened by the snoring. Many of the telltale signs of insomnia and sleep deprivation are present in the chronic snorer as well – daytime drowsiness, fatigue, irritability and lack of focus are the main ones.
- Researchers in Hungary have shown that snorers have higher incidences of both heart attack (almost 35% higher) and stroke (almost 70%)! There’s even research to link loud snoring to artherosclorosis of the coratid artery – which can lead to brain damage and major stroke.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can be a symptom, a cause, and an impact of snoring all rolled into one. This is where the obstruction, and the subsequent lack of oxygen and cessation of breathing for a short time, causes disruption to your sleep.
The social impact of snoring is just now beginning to be measured. Libido and “marital harmony” are often severely affected by snoring. I can remember by grandparents slept in separate rooms for decades because of snoring…
Solutions to Snoring
So you snore. Either you wake yourself up and realize that’s what you’re doing, or you wake someone else (most often – your spouse) and they tell you what you’ve been up to all night. What can you do about it?
Most of the snoring remedies try to remove that obstruction in the breathing passages, but before you jump to a surgical fix, we should try the simple ones first:
- Lose some weight! If there’s excess tissue back there, and you’re overweight, it’s likely that that tissue is a result of you being overweight. A large percentage of snorers who lose weight stop snoring.
- Stop smoking! Smoking, in addition to being bad for you in numerous other ways, weakens the throat, and can cause throat muscles to sag when sleeping.
- Try not to sleep on your back. This causes all those throat muscles (and the tongue is a huge muscle) to naturally gravitate to the back of your throat causing an obstruction. Instead, sleep on your side. Try sewing a tennis-ball into the back of your PJ’s to prevent you from inadvertently rolling on your back.
- If you’re congested in any way, find a way to clear it before bedtime. Saline spray into your nose works, as does a neti-pot. You might also want to try nasal strips that increase the diameter of your nasal passages. There are all kinds of herbal/natural nasal sprays (some marketed as “anti-snore”) you can buy.
- Try exercises that strengthen the muscles in your throat. An interesting suggestion that I heard while researching my sleep apnea post was to practice the didgeridoo!
- Use an anti-snore pillow. These pillows put your neck, spine, and throat into an alignment that creates as large a breathing passage as possible.
Here come the more invasive techniques. Before you try any of these make sure you and your doctor know exactly what’s involved. That’s important – because any of the techniques discussed above (if they work) may be simply masking a much more serious issue:
- There are dental specialists in breathing and sleep apnea – they can manufacture a custom dental appliance that forces your jaw forward, and makes sure your airway remains open through the night.
- These same kinds of products are now available over the counter, and if they are fitted correctly work almost as well (kind of like a hockey or football mouth guard).
- Sleep apnea is normally a diagnosis made by your doctor with recommendations from a study you’ve done at a sleep clinic. If they diagnose it, the first thing they’re likely to recommend to you is a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This device fits over your face (like an oxygen mask in a hospital) all night, and provides air to you with sufficient pressure to overcome any obstruction you might have. Results with CPAP machines are very good, but compliance with their use long-term is not.
- There’s a process called the Pillar Procedure where several long Dacron strips are implanted in the soft palate. This stiffens up the soft palate and makes it less likely to sag or vibrate, causing an obstruction.
- Surgery in your throat can also be a solution. This is where the obstructing material (often the uvula itself) is removed to open up the passage. Surgery has all kinds of risks of it’s own – so do this one only as a last resort.
- A newer development in a surgical solution is a procedure called RFA (radio-frequency ablation), where the use of RF energy and heat can do the same thing we used to do with a scalpel. It’s an outpatient procedure, but causes a lot of the “damage” that regular surgery can.
So What If You Don’t Snore – It’s Your Partner?
This can be the most difficult issue to resolve – you don’t snore, but your partner does. There are really only three recommendations for you at this point:
- Get your partner to try anything and everything to resolve their snoring issue. This can be really difficult, especially if the partner isn’t aware that they’re snoring!
- Get some earplugs. For the longest time, I could not use earplugs – they hurt my ears and they would fall out during the night. But recently I tried some newer, smaller, spongier ones and they are great. I now have a hard time falling asleep without them.
- White noise might be the other option you can look into. It doesn’t have to be white noise, but anything relaxing (isochronic tones) that can absorb the snoring sounds and make them disappear.
You don’t have to live with snoring – either as the snorer or the snoree (is that a word?). Take it seriously and resolve the issue!