Aaron Goldsmith is the owner of Transfer Master and has built electric adjustable hospital beds for home and medical facilities since 1993.
Everyone snores sometimes, whether they know it or not. Habitual snoring is a different beast; 40% of men and 24% of women are habitual snorers. Habitual snorers snore most nights. For occasional snorers, snoring is often a source of amusement, but for people afflicted with habitual snoring (and their sleeping partners), snoring is a serious matter. It causes sleepless nights, irritability, and has been cited as a leading cause of divorce.
In this article, we take a look at what snoring is, factors that make snoring worse, and what you can do to reduce snoring.
What Is Snoring?
We all know what snoring sounds like, but what causes the noise and why does it happen when people fall asleep? Your mouth, nose, and throat contain a lot of soft tissues that can move around, such as the uvula, the larynx, and the tongue. It is the vibration of these tissues that makes the distinctive snoring sound.
When you fall asleep, your throat and other parts of your airway relax. As you breathe, air moves through your mouth, airways in your nose, and your throat. Because the tissues are relaxed, they form narrow passageways that streams of air interact with, creating a vibration.
The Difference Between Snoring and Sleep Apnea
For some snorers, the problem is more serious. The soft tissues relax so much that they periodically block airways entirely. Because the sleeper can’t breathe, the amount of carbon dioxide in their blood rises and they wake up. This condition is called obstructive sleep apnea, and it can be the cause of serious health problems.
Most snorers don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, but, if you suspect you might, be sure to consult a medical professional.
What Makes Snoring Worse?
We have seen that snoring happens when tissues in the nose and throat relax. There are two main factors that contribute to louder and more frequent snoring.
- Something causes the tissues to relax more than usual.
- Additional tissue in the throat forms to restrict and block airways.
The techniques for combating snoring attempt to address these factors. They may focus on reducing the amount of tissue through weight loss or surgery, for example. They may focus on guidance that helps prevent excessive tissue relaxation; this is why snorers are advised not to drink before they go to sleep. Or they may use surgery or medical devices that aim to prevent the soft tissues from relaxing and collapsing in the first place.
1. Lose Weight to Sleep Deeper
Weight gain is one of the most common causes of chronic snoring for people with no previous history of snoring. When we gain weight, some of the fat tissues are deposited around our throat. The extra tissue adds to the blockage of airways and increases the likelihood of vibration as we breathe.
This is one of the reasons that snoring tends to increase as we get older and gain weight. Weight gain and fluid retention is also the reason that pregnant women tend to snore even though they have no history of snoring.
2. Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives Before You Sleep
Many of us enjoy a nightcap before we turn in, and some of us have difficulty sleeping without sedatives, but there is strong evidence that both cause the throat to relax more when we lay down. There is weaker evidence that smoking can also exacerbate snoring. Medical practitioners advise habitual snorers to stop smoking.
3. Adjust Your Sleeping Position
Sleeping on your back may worsen snoring. When you lie flat on your back, the tissues in the throat are more prone to collapsing inwards. Sleeping on your side may reduce snoring, although it depends on the precise source of your snoring. Many people struggle to consistently sleep on their back, and hacks such as attaching a tennis ball to your back to keep you on your side are not universally effective.
However, sleeping with your upper body raised is effective. Raising your upper body by a few degrees combats the forces that cause throat tissues to collapse inwards. The safest and most reliable way to raise your upper body is with an adjustable bed. Modern adjustable beds offer remote-controlled head and foot adjustments that make it easy to adjust your sleeping position. Not only can these reduce snoring, but also reduce back, neck, and limb pain. For couples, dual king adjustable beds allow each partner to choose their own sleeping position.
4. CPAP Machines
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine increases the air pressure in your throat to prevent it from collapsing. They work via a face mask that is attached to a pump and filter. CPAP machines are often used by people with obstructive sleep apnea, but they can also be used by chronic snorers who do not have sleep apnea.
CPAP machines are effective at reducing snoring, but some people find it difficult to sleep with a mask on their face. Common side effects include sore throats and skin irritation. CPAP machines are not usually advisable unless other methods such as lifestyle changes and modifications to sleeping positions have proven ineffective.
5. Mandibular Repositioning Appliances
Mandibular repositioning appliances, also known as oral appliances or mandibular advancement devices, are similar to gum shields. You wear them while sleeping and they help to keep your airways open. They are often used by snorers and people with obstructive sleep apnea who cannot use a CPAP machine. Mandibular repositioning appliances are custom made for each patient to ensure a perfect fit and minimal discomfort.
6. Surgical Interventions to Reduce Snoring
If lifestyle changes and adjustments to your sleeping position have not cured your snoring problem, you may want to consider asking your doctor about surgical treatment. There are several effective treatments for snoring.
Palatal implants—also known as the pillar procedure—are small plastic rods that are surgically inserted into the soft palate. Each rod is less than an inch long. After the rods are inserted, the tissue around them heals and stiffens, preventing the relaxation and vibration that causes snoring.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a more significant medical procedure than palatal implants. It involves the surgical removal of the tonsils, parts of the soft palate, and the uvula. The goal is to reduce the amount of tissue in the throat. Because UPPP is quite a radical procedure, it is typically offered to people who suffer from dangerous obstructive sleep apnea.
Don’t Ignore Chronic Snoring
For many habitual snorers, the lifestyle and sleep positioning advice in this article will be enough to keep snoring under control. Although snoring is not always a sign of a serious underlying condition such as obstructive sleep apnea, it can be. If you have any concerns about snoring and your health, consult your physician for further advice.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 13, 2020:
I learned a lot here thanks.