Snoring is noisy breathing during sleep caused by vibrating tissue in the upper airway. It is a common problem caused by airway resistance and affects nearly all of the population at some time during their lives.
Those who are obese, smoke, drink alcohol, are male or have frequent nasal congestion are more prone to habitual snoring. Snoring can be harmless or it can be a sign of a serious medical disorder known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Any individual who snores should consult with a medical or dental provider to help determine both the underlying cause and the appropriate interventions necessary to stop the snoring.
Here are some key points about snoring. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Snoring is the result of turbulent airflow through the airway causing the uvula and soft palate to vibrate.
- Men snore more often than women.
- Approximately 70% of snoring is hereditary.
- Around 5-7% of children are habitual snorers - any child who snores should be medically evaluated.
- At low levels of upper airway resistance, snoring is less likely to disrupt sleep.
- Regular snorers are more likely to develop hardening of the carotid arteries (carotid atherosclerosis).
- The average snore can reach between 60 (normal conversation) and 90 (power lawnmower) decibels.
- The internal vibration in the inner ear caused by snoring makes the snorer highly susceptible to hearing loss.
- People who snore have more daytime fatigue and are more likely to be in car crashes than non-snorers.
- Although snoring is common, it is a treatable condition.
Causes and treatment of snoring
Snoring is a common condition that can also affect sleeping partners and other members of the household.
When you are awake, the tissues in the throat and upper airway are open for easy air intake to the lungs. During sleep, the soft tissues and tongue relax, and can partially block the airway.
If the air coming in and out of the airway meets enough resistance, snoring can occur. Depending on the cause, there are several things that can be done to stop snoring.
The following is a list of 10 different ways in which snoring can be treated and potentially reduced. Each tip also provides further information about the causes of snoring.
Avoid alcohol and sedating medications
Drugs that are depressants or sedatives relax muscles, causing them to collapse. Alcohol should be avoided for at least four hours prior to sleep and any prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids should be taken under the guidance of a health care professional.
Relieve nasal obstruction
Nasal strips, corticosteroid and moisturizing nasal sprays, antihistamines and a room humidifier can help reduce the nasal inflammation and obstruction that leads to snoring.
Change sleep positions
Snoring is more common when sleeping on your back as the relaxed tongue is more likely to block the airway. Sleeping on your side, elevating the head of the bed a few inches, or using a "snore pillow" to improve neck position can be tried. Sewing a tennis ball or other soft object in the back of a sleep shirt might help prevent rolling over to the back sleeping position.
Excessive fat tissue can surround and narrow the airway, causing snoring from the obstructed airflow.
A custom-fitted oral appliance (similar to a retainer or mouth guard) helps keep the airway open by moving the tongue and jaw slightly forward. Appliances are made by a specially trained sleep medicine dentist.
Throat (oropharyngeal) exercises
Strengthening weak, flappy muscles in the neck and throat with exercises can help them from collapsing during sleep. Like any exercise, this needs to be a consistently practiced activity to see any results. Strive to practice the 10 exercises below at least 30 minutes daily for a minimum of 3 months.
Exercises involving the tongue can help strengthen weak neck and throat muscles.
- Stick your tongue as far out of your mouth as possible, and then move it side to side and up and down without curling the tongue.
- Move the jaw up and down in a chewing motion for a minute or two at a time. This should be done without anything in your mouth.
- Say each vowel over and over at least 20-30 times right before you go to sleep.
- Sing "la, la, la, la" moving up and down through different notes and pitches, before moving on to "fa, fa, fa, fa" and finally "ma, ma, ma, ma."
- Open your mouth as wide as you possibly can and hold it open for around 10 seconds.
- Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide it backward 20 times.
- Using your index finger, press your cheek muscle away from your teeth 10 times on each side.
- Close your mouth and purse your lips. Hold for 30 seconds.
- With mouth open, move jaw to the right and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on left side.
- Elevate the palate and uvula 20 times.
Tobacco smoke is an irritant that can result in tissue inflammation. Because the upper airway can be narrow to begin with, even small amounts of inflammation can restrict airflow.
Good sleep hygiene
Follow a good sleep hygiene program by getting consistent sleep on a comfortable bed, in a dark, cool room. Inadequate sleep can lead to obesity and subsequent snoring.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
The delivery of pressurized air through a nasal or face mask is the gold standard treatment for snoring caused by moderate or severe OSA.
There are several surgical procedures that can help reduce snoring. Examples are:
Removing enlarged tonsils can reduce snoring but should only be considered as a last resort.
- Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy: removes enlarged tonsils and adenoids
- Pillar procedure: inserts small plastic implants in the soft palate to stiffen loose tissue
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): removes excess tissue from the soft palate and uvula
- Septoplasty: repairs a deviated nasal septum
- Somnoplasty: stiffens flabby tissue by using radiofrequency energy to the base of tongue
- Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP): uses a laser to shorten the uvula (the hanging soft tissue at the back of the throat) and to make small cuts in the soft palate. As the cuts heal, the surrounding tissues stiffen to prevent the vibrations that trigger snoring.
Because of the low success rates and potential health risks, surgery should only be considered as a last resort.
Breathing problems during sleep - such as heavy snoring and sleep apnea - may be associated with earlier decline in memory and thinking skills. This is the finding of a new study published in the journal Neurology.
Are you - or your partner - a chronic snorer? Joining a choir or taking singing lessons could help. A UK study found that a program of vocal exercises designed by a choir director helped reduce snoring.
Snoring can be harmless, or it can be a sign of a serious medical disorder. All individuals who snore should consult with a medical or dental provider to help determine the underlying cause so that appropriate measures can be used to treat the snoring.
Even in the absence of a medical condition such as OSA, snoring can be embarrassing and disruptive to the individual, the sleep partner and other members of the household. Considering snorers are three times more likely to develop adverse health conditions than non-snorers, treating snoring is a step in the right direction towards overall good health.