Do you snore? Has your partner or your family teased you for your loud honking and huffing while you sleep?
Snoring can make people laugh—but most often it makes people tired, frustrated, and annoyed. People who snore are more likely to be tired and irritable. That’s because snoring interferes with sound sleep. The noise of snoring also affects sleeping partners, diminishing the quality of their night rest. Snoring can be a source of tension and frustration between couples. Nearly 25 percent of couples in the U.S. are sleeping in separate bedrooms, according to research—and a snoring bed partner is a common reason why.
If you or your partner snore, you’re far from alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 90 million American adults cope with at least a periodic snoring problem, and about 37 million or more snore regularly.
Why we snore
Ever wonder how all that snoring racket gets made? During sleep, the muscles of the throat and mouth relax. This relaxation narrows the trachea—that’s the “windpipe” that carries air to and from the lungs—which diminishes airflow when you breathe. Within the narrowed airway, the tissues of the soft palate and uvula shake and vibrate. This vibration causes the noises of snoring.
The health risks linked to snoring
Snoring isn’t just noisy and annoying. It’s a form of sleep-disordered breathing. Snoring disrupts healthy, sound, restorative sleep. Snoring is also linked to increased risks for other health problems. People who snore are at greater risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a more serious form of sleep-disordered breathing. According to scientific research, people who snore also face an increased risk of:
• Heart disease and stroke
• Accidental injury
• Depression and anxiety
• Diminished sexual satisfaction
Certain people are more at risk for snoring than others. Snoring becomes more common with age. There are other risk factors that increase your likelihood of a snoring problem:
Being overweight. Carrying excess weight significantly elevates your chances of snoring.
Inflammation of the nose, throat, and airway. This inflammation can be caused by conditions such as allergies and respiratory infections.
Alcohol consumption. Alcohol causes exaggerated muscle relaxation, which can make snoring more likely.
Smoking. Smoking irritates the sensitive tissues of the nose, throat, and airway, making them more likely to vibrate and cause snoring.
Sleeping on your back. This sleeping position can lead to a narrower airway. Many people are more likely to snoring when sleeping on their backs, rather than their sides.
Tracking your sleep? Snoring affects sleep quality scores
Tracking sleep using a sleep monitor can deliver valuable information about the quality and quantity of your nightly rest. It used to be that we relied on our perceptions of sleep as a primary measurement of sleep quality. Scientific research has demonstrated that we are not very good at assessing our own sleep. Sleep tracking provides objective data and analysis of your sleep quality and sleep issues.
I really like the S+ sleep monitor for sleep tracking. It’s a device that has been developed with sleep experts. It uses a precise radar sensor to take multiple measurements related to sleep—and it gives you a Sleep Score that provides a clear way to track your sleep on a daily basis, and over time. The S+ sensor works without contact, so you don’t have to wear anything while you sleep.
Snoring can diminish sleep quality, causing you to wake more often throughout the night. (Your snoring can also hurt the sleep quality of your bed partner.) If you snore, it will likely affect your sleep score. A lot of people don’t realize that they snore. If you’re tracking sleep and your sleep scores are low or take a dip, this may be a sign of a snoring issue.
How to stop snoring
The good news is, snoring doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture of your sleep routine. There are several ways to treat a snoring issue. There are lifestyle changes you can make that may help to reduce your snoring:
Lose weight. Even a small weight loss—as little as 5 percent—can make a significant difference to snoring.
Switch sleeping positions. Sleeping on your side can diminish the frequency and intensity of snoring, compared to sleeping on your back.
Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
Seek treatment for allergies and respiratory problems. And talk to your doctor about the medications you’re taking. Some medications, including antihistamines and sleeping pills, can aggravate a snoring problem. Ask your physician for help in finding alternatives.
Congestion and irritation in the nose and throat are common causes of snoring. My mantra for tackling a snoring problem? Decongest for better rest. A clear nose and throat that’s also not dry or irritated will allow you to breathe better while you sleep, and can help to reduce or eliminate snoring. To alleviate your snoring, work your way through these strategies, starting with the first until you find the remedy that’s right for you.
Use a saline spray or nasal wash.
Rinsing and cleaning the nasal passages, whether with a saline spray or a neti pot with salinated, distilled water, can help clear them of debris that clogs the passages and reduce the size of internal tissues.
Try a decongestant spray
Decongestant sprays such as Flonase or Afrin work to reduce mucus and congestion in the nasal passages by narrowing blood vessels.
Dilate the nasal passages externally
Strips placed on the exterior of the nose help keep nasal passages open during sleep. Breath Right is a popular external nasal dilator. Research shows this treatment can reduce the frequency and intensity of snoring.
Theravent makes an external nasal dilator that is effective and well researched. Theravent uses your own breathing to help you breathe normally during sleep. With Theravent, your natural inhales and exhale create what’s known as expiratory positive airway pressure, a gentle form of air pressure that helps to keep your airway open while you’re sleeping.
Dilate the nasal passages internally
There are also internal nasal dilators that work to reduce congestion and snoring. These are stents or cones placed inside the nostrils during sleep. Mute is an internal nasal dilation product that I recommend.
Use a mouth guard
Mouth guards can reduce snoring by gently moving the lower jaw forward and holding the tongue down, helping to keep the airway open during sleep. A few things to keep in mind when considering a mouth guard. If you are buying a mouth guard over the counter, select a mouth guard that uses a boil and bite mold to create a shape that fits your mouth, and one that is moveable and able to adjust your lower jaw, as well as hold down your tongue. Zyppah is a mouth guard that meets these criteria.
Check with your dentist before starting to use a mouth guard, to make sure it’s appropriate for you to use and won’t aggravate jaw pain or tooth movement. These mouth guards can work for snoring but are not appropriate to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
Chronotype matters to snoring
Which chronotypes are most inclined to snore at night? Bears and Wolves are more likely to have issues with snoring than other chronotypes. Bears tend to gain weight, especially around the middle. Weight gain is a major risk factor for snoring. Keeping at a healthy weight is one way to address a snoring issue. Wolves are more vulnerable to health issues and habits that can predispose them to snore. Wolves’ diet and exercise habits may make them overweight. They may be more likely to drink alcohol late in the evening, and at times to excess, which can aggravate snoring.
Because of their tendency to be very health conscious, Lions are the chronotype least likely to snore. But that doesn’t mean Lions are immune from snoring. Snoring can be a problem for all chronotypes—and this form of sleep-disordered breathing carries the same health and sleep risks, no matter what your chronotype.
When it’s more than snoring
Snoring is sometimes a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a more serious form of sleep-disrupted breathing. People with sleep apnea experience periodic interruptions to their breathing during sleep, as the airway closes and temporarily cuts off normal airflow. These interruptions can be occasional, with mild sleep apnea, or they can happen frequently throughout the night, with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea increases risks for other conditions, including high blood pressure and other forms of cardiovascular disease, obesity, memory, and other cognitive problems, and increased risk for accidents.
Be alert to these five symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea:
• Snoring, which may be loud
• Observed apnea episodes—pauses in breathing during sleep
• Morning headaches and dry mouth
• Daytime sleepiness even after a full, 7 to 9-hour night of sleep
• Mood swings, including irritability, anxiety, and depression.
If you have these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor promptly. Left untreated, obstructive can cause serious health problems, but there are effective treatments available. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine can help you find sleep specialists and accredited sleep centers in your area: http://www.sleepeducation.org/find-a-facility.
You don’t have to live with uncomfortable, disruptive snoring—in yourself or your sleeping partner. Take action and get help. You’ll sleep better at night and perform better during the day, as well as help protect your long-term health.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™