Snoring is one of the most common sleep complaints, it is estimated that up to 35% of the population are regular snorers. It can be disruptive for the snorer but especially for his or her bed-partner.
What causes snoring?
There are many different reasons why some people snore. When we sleep, all of our muscles relax, including the muscles around the throat and airways. This might cause the the airways to become 'floppy'. As we breathe in and out, airflow is restricted by this and vibrates, causing the loud snoring sound.
In some people snoring may be louder than in others, and it might be caused by different things. Alcohol and other sedatives, including some sleeping tablets, further relax our muscles and can lead to worsened snoring. Many people report snoring to be louder on nights they have been drinking alcohol.
Some people have an abnormal soft tissue structure and may have an abnormally large tongue or tonsils which fall back into the throat when they lie down, obstructing their airways. An overbite can also contribute towards this. A deviated septum in the nose is quite common, in some this may be due to a previous nose injury (I'm looking at you, rugby players!) but in others it may simply be their facial structure.
Smoking or the inhalation of chemicals and dusts often worsens snoring, this is because the airways become irritated and congested. A cold or allergies have similar effects.
Is my snoring a problem?
If your snoring negatively affects you or other people, then it is a problem. Don't feel like it is something you have to live with forever. Some have even had anti-social behaviour warnings for loud snoring at night if it has disturbed neighbours!
But despite the noise, snoring doesn't generally affect your health sleep quality unless it associated with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a breathing-related sleep disorder where someone temporarily stops breathing many times throughout the night. They might stop breathing completely or just have a reduction in their airflow, but it can cause blood oxygen levels to drop and leave a very poor quality nights sleep. OSA does have long-term health implications if left untreated, so it is important to get things tested and checked out if you are concerned about excessive sleepiness during the day.
How can I stop snoring?
It completely depends. You need to figure out what is causing your snoring. Have you got a large tongue or tonsils which might slip back and obstruct your airways at night? Do you only snore when you lie on your back? Has your snoring only been a problem since you put on some weight or is it something that has always been a problem since you were young?
Some people choose to undergo operations to remove soft tissue around the throat if they are sure it is the cause of the problem. However every procedure carries a risk and generally these procedures aren't very effective.
If your snoring is positional, and worse when you lie on your back, you could position yourself to stay lying on your side with pillows propping you up or tennis balls sewn to a t-shirt. If these prove successful you can invest in a device worn around your chest at night which vibrates to keep you sleeping on your side, although these can be costly they may be more comfortable than tennis balls!
Weight gain and snoring go hand-in-hand, especially in males. Males already tend to have more mass around their neck and torsos than women which is why snoring and sleep apnoea are more common in men. But additional weight adds stress whilst lying down and it becomes harder for the muscles in the neck to support the airways staying open to allow continuous breathing. Weight loss is a very effective treatment for both snoring and OSA - but these problems occur in healthy weight and underweight individuals too so it is not always necessary.
Nasal dilators or small devices can be bought cheaply and are often seen advertised online. They can seem great, but I am yet to find someone who benefits from them. They may widen your nostrils ever so slightly but if your nostrils aren't the source of the problem then they will be completely ineffective and a waste of money!
Mandibular advancement splints are a more suitable device which are worn like a mouthguard, bringing your jaw forwards to create more space in the back of the throat.
CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a therapy pretty much guaranteed to stop snoring. It is designed for OSA sufferers but many snorers without OSA also choose to use CPAP because it is so effective and not as uncomfortable as many imagine it to be. A mask is worn at night which is connected to a silent machine which delivers pressurised air into your nose and mouth, this pressurised air helps to splint your airways open and prevents them collapsing or vibrating - so no snoring!!
However severe your snoring, don't suffer in silence. A sleep clinic should be able to help stop your sleep from being disturbed and assess you for obstructive sleep apnoea by performing a simple overnight sleep study if you wish. You will be able to work with the team to find a comfortable and effective treatment for your snoring.