It’s one of those human things that can be embarrassing, annoying, funny and for some, downright dangerous. We’re talking about snoring, and if you or a loved one have a tendency to snore regularly, it’s important to educate yourself about when snoring is a light annoyance and when it can be a symptom of a serious sleep disorder.
What is snoring?
Snoring occurs when air can’t move freely through your nose and throat while you’re asleep. When the airflow is blocked or inhibited, it causes the surrounding throat and nasal tissues to vibrate, producing that familiar (to many) snoring sound.
It’s common for a person’s neck muscles to relax during sleep, but when these muscles relax too much –and particularly when this is combined with tissue flabbiness that can occur with aging – it blocks part of or all of our upper airway, and snoring is the result.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you suffer from snoring, you’re in good company: About 90 million Americans are making the hoarse breathing noises that are the hallmark of snoring. About 50% of the population will snore at some point in their lives, whether it’s from sinus congestion, a tendency to sleep on your back, or a more chronic condition. If you have pets, you’ve probably even heard them snore!
Men are more likely to snore than women, although plenty of women snore. SleepEducation.org says that about 40 percent of adult males and 24 percent of adult females are regular, chronic snorers. Interestingly, men are less likely to snore after the age of 70.
It’s interesting to note that pregnant women, who may have excess tissue around their neck and throat area, are more likely to snore. Even babies occasionally snore ― which is likely more endearing than when your partner is “sawing logs” on the pillow next to you, preventing you from getting back to sleep!
Why do people snore?
There are both structural and situational reasons why people snore. The physical (structural) factors that increase your chances of snoring include having a large tongue, enlarged tonsils, or carrying excess weight around your neck area. Even the anatomy of your jaw or the shape of your nose can contribute to a tendency to snore.
Situationally, the reasons someone may snore include nasal or sinus congestion, intoxication, smoking, taking medications, being overweight or in poor physical shape, and sleep position. All of these factors can contribute to an increased likelihood of snoring.
Age and gender also come into play. We’re more likely to snore as we grow older, and because men tend to have narrower airways, men are more likely to snore than women. Snoring runs in families, so if your parents and siblings all snore – you might be next.
How can I stop snoring?
If you (or your partner) want to stop snoring—or if your partner wishes you snored less—try these at-home remedies to stop snoring:
- Roll onto your side. Back sleepers are more likely to snore because the tongue relaxes backward toward the throat, which can partially obstruct the airway. If you roll onto your side, snoring should subside.
- If you’re overweight, focus on losing weight. The extra throat tissue present in overweight people contributes to snoring. Losing that tissue can reduce snoring.
- Elevate the head of your bed. Just a 4-inch elevation may help reduce snoring.
- Dilate nasal tissues. Try opening the nasal passageway, either internally with a nasal dilator such as Mute, or externally with adhesive nasal strips such as Breathe Right strips that are applied to the bridge of the nose to help increase airflow through the nose.
- Treat allergies or congestion. Address ongoing nasal congestion, either through medication in the case of allergies or a cold, or—in severe cases—through surgical correction of a deviated septum.
- Quit smoking. In addition to the myriad other health benefits, when you quit smoking, you lower your likelihood of snoring.
- Say no to that nightcap. Consuming alcoholic beverages within two hours of sleep can increase your likelihood of snoring. Medications such as muscle relaxers that depress the central nervous system can cause throat tissues to relax excessively, leading to—you guessed it—a higher incidence of snoring.
When is snoring a cause for concern?
Light snoring—the kind that easily resolves by changing sleep position, dilating nasal passages or elevating the head of your bed—isn’t a cause for concern, though it may annoy your partner. When snoring is chronic and you suffer from fatigue and sleepiness during the day even after sleeping for 8+ hours, your snoring could be a medical condition called obstructive sleep apnea. If you’re a chronic snorer and suspect you may suffer from this serious sleep disorder, discuss the symptoms with your doctor immediately. We’ll delve into the details of obstructive sleep apnea in our next blog post.