Snoring happens when the flow of air through the mouth or nasal airway (upper airway) is obstructed. This results in vibrations of the soft palate or soft tissue of the nose or mouth.
A snore is a rattling or snorting sound when inhaling and exhaling air whilst asleep. This sleep condition is more common in men over 50 who are overweight. During the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or dream stage of the sleep cycle, snoring becomes louder, and thus, can be even more disturbing.
Implications of Snoring
Normally, most people will not be aware that they snore unless they are told by a (usually disgruntled) bed partner.
Often when a person first begins to snore it is not too loud, however, if left unchecked, snoring tends to get louder over time until it is causing a real problem.
Snoring results in interrupted sleep and therefore, daytime tiredness for the snorer themselves, and also for the long suffering partners. In severe cases, the snorer can actually wake themselves up!
Why is Snoring more than an Irritation?
Snoring, although seen more as an irritation by some people, can have some serious health implications.
Sleep apnea often accompanies snoring and this can be a major health problem.
There are two types of sleep apnea:-
Central sleep apnea : This is a serious neurological condition whereby the brain does not trigger the body to breathe during sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea osa : If the flow of air is blocked to the air passage and lungs for 10 seconds or more this is known as sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnoea the tissues and muscles of the upper airway block the airflow. If there is a partial blockage this is known as hypopnoea.
Why is Obstructive Sleep Apnea a Medical Issue?
Sleep apnea should always be investigated by a medical specialist, for a true diagnosis a sleep study at a sleep center may be necessary.
Not only does sleep apnea lead to daytime tiredness and drowsiness, but a good night sleep is also essential for health reasons. If you are continuously having airflow problems and oxygen deprivation, throughout the night this can not be good for health.
Snorers who also have obstructive sleep apnea are more at risk to develop:-
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood pressure and heart disease
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Complications during medical treatments and/or surgery
- Liver problems
- Relationship problems
Because snoring is one of the indicators of sleep apnea osa , and the associated health risks are serious it is essential to seek medical help.
Indeed, if you are reading this because yourself or a partner has a snoring disorder and you are looking for practical solutions the first thing you should do is to arrange a health check to rule out sleep apnea.
This is because one quarter of men and a tenth of women have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, and the older you get the more likely you are to suffer with sleep apnea.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea osa
If your doctor suspects that you have obstructive sleep apnea along with your snoring you will be sent for tests that measure the airflow, oxygen levels, blood pressure and brain activity whilst you sleep.
Once sleep apnea osa has been diagnosed there are several treatments available:-
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure CPAP is the first choice of treatment for OSA. CPAP involves an air-tight mask that is connected to a machine that forces a gentle positive pressure on the air that is inhaled.
The CPAP machine helps keep the upper airways open and a constant flow of air (and oxygen) around the body.
Conversely, the CPAP mask and machine is not the most comfortable of contraptions to get used to, especially for sleep. Once mastered, however, CPAP reduces daytime sleepiness and blood pressure.
Other Tips to Stop Snoring
If you have ruled out obstructive sleep apnea then there are several other measures that you can take to help ease the snoring.
Snoring may occur as a result of the sleepingposition. Many people do not snore when sleeping on their sides or fronts. Often the snoring will start or get louder when a person rolls onto their back during sleep.
Oftentimes, it is usually the sleep partner who has been woken up and gently (or not so gently) rolls you over.
However, there are a range of anti-snoring device available that encourage you to sleep on your side and not your back.
If the snore problem originates in the nose then there is the nasal strip or nasal dilator that will help enlarge the nasal passage and stop snoring.
Furthermore, if you have a heavy cold or flu then the nasal congestion will make any snoring worse, as will allergies.
Another type of snore treatment is aimed at snoring that originates from the mouth. There are several devices, most of which help to prevent the mouth falling open and encourage mouth breathing:-
Chin Strap : This helps to keep the lower jaw closed and stops the mouth falling open.
Mouth shield : This is an anti-snoring mouthpiece that is like a plastic guard and stops the air from flowing around the mouth.
Mandibular advancement device : If the snoring originates from the tongue vibrating then a mandibular advancement device keeps the tongue and jaw forward.
Maintain a healthy weight
It is no secret that snoring is connected to obesity and weight problems.
Overweight people have more fatty tissue around the neck and also poor muscle tone in the nose and throat areas.
In addition, getting fit and starting a gentle exercise program will help immensely.
For some top tips on how to lose weight fast click here.
Avoid or cut down on alcohol
Anybody who has suffered sharing a bed with a snorer is only too aware that alcohol seems to make the problem worse – much worse.
Alcohol makes the muscles of the body more relaxed which in turn encourages the muscles at the back of the throat to collapse resulting in increased frequency and a very loud snore.
Studies have now shown that even after a small amount of alcohol, the resulting relaxation affect raises the level of inspiratory resistance by 4 times. This means that an average person, or a snorer is four times more likely to snore after alcohol.
The obvious solution is to avoid alcohol before going to bed and/or significantly cut down on alcohol. This will bring other health benefits too.
Stop or cut down on Smoking
The lining of the nasal cavity and throat is very delicate and cigarette smoking can irritate this tissue leading to inflammation and an increased likelihood of snoring.
Stopping smoking is one of the biggest steps you can take to improve your health. Most people are aware now of the many health implications of smoking including an increased likelihood of all cancers including lung cancer and breast cancer.
A good night’s sleep for you and your loved ones is another good reason to stop smoking for good.