Snoring occurs when the air you breathe causes the tissues in the back of your throat to vibrate. The sound most often occurs as you breathe in air, and can come through the nose, mouth or a combination of the two. It can occur during any stage of sleep and at any age. While snoring is a common condition that can affect anyone, it tends to be more common in men and people who are overweight, and has a tendency to worsen with age.
Sleeping on your back may make you more likely to snore. It may also occur as your throat muscles relax from use of alcohol or other sedatives. Congestion from a cold or allergies can also cause you to snore. Snoring itself may not be a problem (except for your bed partner or anyone else nearby) however if your snoring is loud and severe enough it can easily lead to respiratory distrubances which keep bringing you from deeper sleep to lighter sleep stages during the night leaving you feeling tired and unrefreshed in the morning. Snoring can also cause you to have a dry mouth or sore or irritated throat when you wake up. If your snoring leads to apneas (complete stoppage of breathing) your oxygen levels may be affected leading to stress on your heart and brain. Heavy snoring may be associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder and a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other health problems.
Causes and Symptoms
A number of factors can contribute to snoring including:
-Genetics: Genetic factors that can cause snoring include a small or narrow airway, extra throat tissue as well as enlarged tonsils, large adenoids, long soft palate or long uvula.
• Being Overweight or out of shape: Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone contribute to snoring. Even if you’re not overweight in general, having a thicker neck or smaller recessed chin can also mean you are more prone to snoring.
• Age: As you reach middle age and beyond the muscle tone in your throat decreases especially during REM sleep when you are supposed to be paralized so the passageway narrows leading to increased snoring.
• Obstructed Nasal Airways: Men have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore. A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids, and other physical attributes that contribute to snoring are often hereditary.
• Nasal and sinus problems: Blocked airways (deviated septum) or a stuffy nose make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring.
• Alcohol, smoking, and medications: Alcohol intake, smoking, and certain medications, such as tranquilizers like lorazepam (Ativan) and diazepam (Valium), can increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.
• Sleep posture: Sleeping flat on your back causes the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway.
• Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue: Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the airway. This can result from REM sleep, alcohol consumption, and use of some sleeping pills. Normal aging also causes further relaxation of these muscles.
• Allergies and Congestion: Anything that prevents you from breathing through your nose can cause you to snore. This can include congestion from a cold or flu or allergies.
The primary symptom of snoring is unmistakable: it is the often loud, harsh or hoarse noises that you make while you are asleep. Other symptoms may include waking up gasping or choking or with a sore throat or dry mouth in the morning. If you have any of the following symptoms you may have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
• Excessive tiredness during the daytime
• Choking or gasping while you sleep
• Pauses in breathing
• Morning headaches
• Difficulty concentrating
• Moodiness, irritability or depression
• Frequent need to urinate during the night
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Self-tests and Diagnosis
If your partner complains that you snore regularly and ever elbows you in the side, you’ve recently gained weight or stopped exercising or have family members that snore you are at risk for snoring and it may be more severe than simple snoring. You may want to see a Medical Doctor if you snore regularly or loudly and have some of the above symptoms. If you also make choking or gasping sounds as you snore, you will should be tested for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
In addition to a complete medical history, the physician will need to know how long you have been snoring. You will also need to tell the physician whether you recently gained weight or stopped exercising. Be sure to tell your physician of any past or present drug and medication use. Ask your partner, roommate or family member if they have ever heard you snore.
A knowledgable Doctor will recommend that you get screened for Sleep Apnea. A simple and cost effective way to be tested is utilizing a Home Sleep Test or Level III Ambulatory Sleep Study which lets you sleep in the comfort of your own home while a machine collects information about your breathing and oxygen levels. The testing equipment differs in that it is less complicated than what is used in an overnight sleep study in a lab or hospital. Quality Sleep Care’s staff will teach you how to hook up the testing equipment yourself during a short appointment.
There are plenty of proven techniques that can help eliminate snoring. Not every remedy is right for every person, though, so it may require some patience, some lifestyle changes, and a willingness to experiment with different solutions.
• Lose weight: If you’re overweight, dropping even a few pounds can reduce fatty tissue in the back of the throat and decrease or maybe even stop snoring.
• Exercise can also help with snoring. Exercising your arms, legs, and abdomen, for example, also leads to toning the muscles in your neck and airway which in turn can lead to less snoring. There are also specific exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles in your throat.
• Establish regular sleep patterns. Create a healthy bedtime ritual with your partner and stick to it. Hitting the sack in a routine way together can help you sleep better and often minimize snoring.
• Quit smoking. Quitting is easier said than done, but smoking irritates the membranes in the nose and throat leading to inflammation which can narrow the airways and cause snoring.
• Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills (if possible), and sedatives in general because they relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing. Talk to your doctor about how the medications you are on may be affecting your sleep.
• Positional therapy: Lying on your back can make snoring worse due to increased obstruction in your airway. Lying flat on your back makes the base of your tongue and soft palate collapse to the back wall of your throat, narrowing the passageway for air. Sleeping on your side may help prevent this.
• Oral appliances. Oral appliances are form-fitting dental mouthpieces that help advance the position of your tongue and soft palate to keep your air passage open. If you choose to use an oral appliance, visit your dental specialist at least once every six months during the first year, and then at least annually after that, to have the fit checked and to make sure that your condition isn’t worsening. Excessive salivation, dry mouth, jaw pain and facial discomfort are possible side effects from wearing these devices
• Surgery: There are a variety of elective surgeries you can have to reduce your snoring. The most common surgeries reduce or eliminate the bulky tissue in your throat. Other more complicated procedures can adjust your bone structure.