Unlike sleep apnea, in which you actually stop breathing, common snoring doesn’t appear to harm your health, but it can make you and others lose valuable rest time. Still, many people appropriately seek treatment for snoring because it can seriously disrupt your sleep, the sleep of a bed partner and cause embarrassment or bodily harm when said bed partner kicks you to make the snoring stop.
So, what causes snoring? As you doze off and go from light to deeper sleep, your tongue relaxes, as do the soft tissues of your throat and the roof of your mouth called the soft palate. These tissues can sag into the airway, causing it to narrow. As inhaled or exhaled air is forced through the smaller opening, the relaxed tissues of the soft palate vibrate, resulting in snoring. See your doctor about your snoring if you:
• Snore loudly and frequently
• Snore in any sleep position
• Wake up from a night’s sleep feeling unrefreshed and have daytime sleepiness
• Have pauses in breathing or have startled awakenings with shortness of breath
• Disrupt the sleep of others
The goal of diagnosis is usually to rule out sleep apnea which can be fatal. A physical exam and snoring history from both you and your bed partner, or someone who hears you snore, are important to this process. An overnight sleep study may be recommended. If you don’t have sleep apnea, the doctor may suggest steps you can take to reduce snoring. These steps are aimed at reducing the chances of airway constriction which is a major cause of snoring. Some of these steps are aimed at specific events such as below:
Upstream factors such as nasal obstruction can cause waves downstream, such as airway flow at the level of the throat. A range of therapies may be suggested for obstructed nasal passages, such as adhesive nasal strips or corticosteroid nasal sprays.
Being Overweight or Obese
Extra bulk narrows your airway. Losing weight can reduce snoring.
This can cause excessive relaxation of muscles and tissues around your throat. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages at least four hours before bed.
Lying on your back allows your tongue to sag and narrows your airway. A number of techniques can be used to train yourself to sleep on your side.
Your Mouth Anatomy
Features such as large tonsils can obstruct your airway. Surgical removal of an obstruction is likely to decrease snoring. Smoking can cause an increased risk of snoring through toxic effects that cause swelling to the airway lining and muscles.
Some devices can significantly reduce snoring, but they can be costly. Many insurance plans don’t cover them. The most effective treatment for snoring is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This delivers pressurized air through a mask, keeping your upper airway open during sleep. A downside is that you may have difficulty adjusting to wearing a mask at night. Oral appliances from specially trained dentists or orthodontists are designed to keep your throat open. They can reduce frequency and intensity of snoring. Several surgical procedures are available to help reduce snoring, either by cutting away excess mouth and throat tissue or by stiffening tissues of the soft palate to prevent vibration and sagging. But surgery is usually considered a last resort because it’s expensive and can cause side effects or complications. There is less than a 50 percent chance that your snoring will decrease after such surgery.