What is Snoring?
Snoring is the noise that we sometimes make when we sleep. It can vary from a gentle sound as we breathe to a loud, harsh noise that can wake a household.
This sleep disorder affects about 90 million people in the US, both male and female. It can disrupt your own sleep and that of others. (1)
Snoring can also be particularly troublesome for a partner, apart from keeping them awake it can place strain on a relationship. Especially if sleeping in the spare room or on the couch is the only option for a good night’s sleep. (2)
To enable us to better understand the causes of snoring we will detail what happens when we snore.
When you sleep, your throat and jaw muscles relax and your tongue falls backward. Your throat becomes narrower as a result, which could be referred to as “floppy” and the airway becomes partially blocked. Breathing in and out then causes the walls of the throat to vibrate.
These vibrations are what make the characteristic sound we call snoring. The narrower the gap in your airway, the more intense the vibration and the louder snoring. (3)
There are many reasons that contribute to this situation of which include:
Growing older results in a loss of muscle tone in our bodies including those in the throat. As a result our airway might become narrower, leaving us more prone to snoring. (4)
Certain genetic differences in structures of the nose and throat can narrow the airways. These include enlarged adenoids or tonsils, a deviated septum and nasal polyps. (5)
Any of these conditions can lead to snoring when sleeping.
Being overweight can lead to excess fatty tissue and lack of muscle strength in the body including the neck and throat region. As a result the upper airway can be narrower which leads to a higher chance of snoring. (6)
Nasal and Sinus Issues
Many things can affect our nasal passages and the ability to breathe through our nose. Among the things that lead to nasal congestion are infections in the sinuses, common colds, the flu and allergies.
Nasal obstruction affects the airflow and breathing is more difficult which can result in snoring. (7)
Consuming alcohol is intoxicating on the body and leaves you prone to relaxation of the throat muscles. This in turn means you are more likely to snore. (8)
Certain medications can lead to snoring. These include drugs that induce muscle relaxation and even medications for insomnia. (9,10)
The position that we sleep in and the support on our neck and head can play a role in how much we snore. Sleeping on your back allows your tongue to slide back towards your throat restricting your airway.
Changing the position you sleep in and the type of pillow you use can affect how much you snore. (11)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This common but serious sleep disorder can affect up to four percent of the general population. It happens when someone stops breathing briefly when asleep. This is due to relaxation of the soft tissue at the back of the throat blocking the airway.
This can happen hundreds of times a night, disturbing your sleep pattern and leaving you tired during the day. The chances are that you won’t even know you have this condition unless someone else notices it.
The main symptom is loud snoring every night. (12)
Smoking can irritate the throat and nose, causing inflammation in the upper airways. As a result smokers are more liable to snore. (13)
The main symptom of snoring is a loud, hoarse or hard noise that emits from your nose or mouth when you are sleeping. You can also find that you wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
There are other symptoms that could indicate you have sleep apnea. These include excessive sleepiness during the day, moodiness and irritability. You could also wake up frequently choking or gasping for air.
Headaches when waking and difficulty concentrating are things to watch for. A feeling of not being rested after sleep or waking at night feeling confused are other signs of this condition. (14)
Whilst occasional snoring affects us all, if your snoring is persistent and loud you might want to see a medical professional. This is particularly significant if you make choking or gasping sounds, because it could point towards obstructive sleep apnea.
Your doctor will take a complete medical history and want to know how long you have been snoring. They will also find out how frequent it is and the impact it has on your daytime functioning.
Gaining weight and lack of exercise can be a contributing factor therefore mention any changes in exercise habits or weight gain. Tell them about any medications you are taking.
Examination of your ears, nose and throat along with your breathing could reveal any physical reasons why you snore.
There are other tests that can be done at home or in a sleep lab to try and find out why you snore or if you have sleep apnea.
Home Sleep Apnea Tests
This test provides a sleep specialist with the information they need to detect sleep apnea. A machine will be provided for use in the comfort of your own home. This monitors your breathing while you sleep.
The sensors can also measure your blood oxygen levels, heart rate and other information. (15)
This test requires that you stay overnight in a sleep center. A machine that has various sensors is attached to your body while you sleep. It can monitor your breathing, heartbeat and brain waves among other things for analysis by a sleep specialist. (16)
What is snoring? Snoring is the noise that we sometimes make when we sleep. It can vary from a gentle sound as we breathe to a loud, harsh noise that can wake a household.
What causes snoring? Muscle relaxation in the throat and jaw cause the tongue to slide backwards towards the throat which narrows the airways when asleep. As we breathe vibrations are caused when the air passes through the partial obstruction, hence the familiar noise. This can also happen if nasal passages are congested.
How do doctors test for snoring? A doctor will give you a physical examination and take a full medical history. If reasons for snoring are not apparent you could be referred to a sleep specialist for further tests to rule out sleep apnea.
When should you go to the doctors with snoring? Snoring can have a knock on effect over many aspects of our lives. It can interfere with sleep for you, your partner or other family members. This can leave you less able to function during the day. If snoring is upsetting your quality of life then you need to seek medical help.
Can you prevent snoring? Obesity, smoking and alcohol all contribute to snoring. By losing weight, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol you may be able to reduce or stop your snoring.
What can relieve snoring? Wearing an oral device at night which holds your tongue and jaw in position can help stop snoring. These devices look a bit like a sports guard and fit over your teeth and slide your lower jaw forward. In doing so it opens the airway and allows normal breathing. These appliances can be custom fitted by a dentist with knowledge of sleep medicine. There are also elective surgeries that can be carried out aimed to reduce your snoring.
Do men snore more than women? While both men and women snore, the prevalence is more in men. In the general population it is estimated that the ratio of men to women snoring is between 3:1 and 5:1. (17)
Are there any self help tips for snoring? There are many anti snoring devices available on the market, but finding what will work for you could be quite a chore. They vary from mouth guard type devices to nasal strips, sprays and supportive pillows. There are other points you can do to help yourself. You can try changing the position you sleep in or use a nasal decongestant before going to bed. Dry air can also irritate your throat and nasal passages so avoid air conditioning and keep a damp towel in your bedroom to moisten the air. Investing in a humidifier might help. (18)
Snoring is the noise we sometimes make when sleeping. It can vary from a gentle sound as we breathe to a loud, harsh noise that can wake a household.
It can have a major impact on daily life both for the snorer and anyone that lives with them. Lack of good quality sleep can cause fatigue, irritability and increased risk of health problems.
There are lifestyle changes that can be made to help relieve snoring like losing weight, not smoking and restricting alcohol use.
Although we might all joke about snoring it can be a serious problem, especially if you have sleep apnea. If you are concerned in any way about this symptom you should seek medical advice so suitable treatment can be sought.