Snoring can be a real annoyance causing an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The problem is more common in men than women and tends to be worse in people who are overweight. Generally snoring is bothersome rather than a danger to health, although it can indicate a more serious medical problem called sleep apnoea.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is a sign that breathing is being obstructed during sleep.
When you snore the sound you make comes from the walls of the throat, the roof of the mouth and the base of the tongue vibrating. When you sleep, the muscles that keep the airways open relax and collapse on themselves. Snoring occurs when these muscles become too relaxed restricting airflow in and out of the lungs. Some external factors can cause this over-relaxation including drinking alcohol, taking sleeping pills or other sedating medication, sleeping on your back or on an overly soft pillow.
If the muscles completely collapse, no air can pass through and you stop breathing. This condition is called obstructive sleep apnoea. Fortunately, the body has a natural mechanism which detects this and forces you to wake before suffocation occurs. This cycle of suffocation and waking can occur very many times a night without you even knowing it’s happening. According to the British Thoracic Society (BTS) 2-4% of middle-aged men suffer from sleep apnoea. It is a major problem as it causes daytime sleepiness and is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Snoring also occurs if the airways get disrupted for example due to smoking, asthma or enlarged tonsils.
How can snoring be prevented?
If snoring is severe a device called ‘continuous positive airway pressure’ (CPAP) can be used. This works by delivering pressurised air through a mask worn at night. The pressurised air forces the throat open and allows normal breathing.
There are also devices that can be inserted by dentists that push the lower jaw forward to ease breathing.
For snoring caused due to blockages in the nose and throat, surgery may be offered as a last resort. One method is somnoplasty which involves using radio-frequency heat energy to burn away some soft tissue in the throat to help open the airways. The procedure is performed under local anaesthetic.
For severe snoring a doctor can refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist or to a Sleep Clinic that specialises in sleeping disorders.
Some people find wearing a nasal strip or nasal support device during sleep can help ease mild congestion and snoring.
Alternative remedies & self-help:
- You can help prevent snoring by avoiding alcohol, sedatives and antihistamines (that cause drowsiness) before bedtime.
- Losing weight through healthy eating and regular exercise will also help as being fat is a major cause of snoring.
- If you have allergies try to eliminate triggers from your room (for example don’t let pets sleep in your bedroom) and wash bedding regularly if you are allergic to house dust mites.
- Use a humidified to keep the air moist.
- Avoid sleeping on your back - there are products that can encourage you to sleep on your side.
- Some herbal products, pills and sprays are designed to ease snoring. It’s unclear how effective these are.