Snoring is so common it is hardly considered a sleep disorder—it is seen as “the norm” by many! Between 30 to 50% of sleepers snore. Snoring is more common in men, and like many health problems, it becomes more common with age. Snoring is most likely to bother those around the sleeper, but snorers themselves may face increased risk of heart attack and stroke in addition to increased drowsiness during the daytime.
Snoring is caused by the vibration of the tissues surrounding the airway during sleep. Structures involved include the uvula and soft palate. Increased muscle tone and an upright posture prevent this vibration while awake. Sedating medications and alcohol can contribute to snoring by further relaxing the muscle around the airway. Sleeping on one’s back can also worsen vibrations by compressing the tissues closer together or by causing the tongue to fall to the back of the throat.
It doesn’t take a special diagnostic procedure, or even a physician, to diagnose someone with snoring—the problem is clear enough to anyone trying to fall asleep around the snorer. Treating snoring, though, is more difficult. What can be done besides offering your bed partner some earplugs? Wide ranges of advice and treatment options are offered. Here are a few of the most common.
- Take care of your health. Obesity can contribute to snoring due to excess fat compressing the airway, but there are several other reasons many of us need to lose weight. Smoking contributes to snoring, as well as heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Losing weight and stopping smoking are two of the best things anyone can do for their health.
- Sleep on your side. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good first step to stop snoring since it opens up the airway. Try propping yourself up with a pillow at your side to allow for added comfort. (It is worth nothing that some of the best mattresses for side sleepers are memory foam mattresses and latex mattresses).
- Open those sinuses. Sinus congestion may worsen symptoms of snoring. Try a saline nasal rinse, which can be bought over-the-counter at most pharmacies.
- Consider herbal pills, acupressure or acupuncture. Just remember that these may not have been rigorously studied, so their efficacy is unproven.
- Try breathing exercises—anecdotal evidence suggests that opera singers and players of the didgeridoo do not suffer from snoring as much as others. This may be because the musicians have developed their breathing muscles and the tone of their airway to make it harder to close off during sleep.
- Some dental appliances may advance the lower jaw and pull the tongue forward to open the airway and reduce snoring. These appliances have been shown to reduce snoring and even help in mild to moderate sleep apnea. Possible side effects include discomfort, gum irritation, and rarely, temporomandibular joint disorder. Devices may be fitted professionally by a dentist, which allows for minimal discomfort. Alternatively, less expensive but less predictable devices may be obtained over-the-counter.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a device used to open the airway by pumping a stream of air through a mask into the airway to keep it open. While most commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP can also help severe snoring.
- Consider medication—a combination of pseudophedrine and domperidone has been effective in stopping snoring in some countries. However, these medications are also not without side effects.
- Consider surgery. This is usually reserved for severe cases in which other treatment attempts have failed, as the surgeries are invasive and may have complications. These surgeries attempt to open the airway by removing tissue at the back of the throat. Alternatively, Dacron pillars may be inserted into the soft palate to support it and reduce the vibration that causes snoring.
- Radiofrequency ablation applies energy and heat to the back of the throat, leading to scarring under the surface which stiffens the region, leading to opening of the airway. This treatment consists of several short sessions. While it has been shown to reduce the severity of snoring, it may not stop snoring completely.
It is usually best to start with simple changes you can do yourself before trying more aggressive treatments. Don’t be afraid to approach your doctor with questions. While snoring is common, that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be addressed.