Snoring is extremely common: 45 percent of American adults snore occasionally, and 25 percent are habitual snorers. While many consider it a mere nuisance, snoring is actually a sleep disorder that can signal a serious medical condition.
What Causes Snoring
When you sleep, your tongue, throat muscles and soft palate relax. If they relax too much, they can droop backward and block the airway, vibrating together when you breathe. This causes the telltale noisy sounds associated with snoring. The more the airway is obstructed, the louder the snoring will be.
There are several factors that increase the odds you will snore. People with bulky throat tissue or an enlarged soft palate are more at risk for snoring, as are those who experience frequent nasal congestion, have a deviated septum, nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils or adenoids as well as those who drink alcohol before bedtime. The typical snorer is overweight, male and over the age of 40. Snoring tends to worsen with age. In some individuals, the airway becomes so obstructed that breathing is interrupted; this leads to a serious medical condition known as sleep apnea.
Tips for Quieting Your Snoring
If your snoring isn’t a complication of sleep apnea, implementing lifestyle changes may help eliminate the problem. Useful tips include:
- Changing your sleep position. Snoring occurs when the tongue and throat tissue sag down during sleep, blocking the airway. Sleeping on your back worsens this, so try sleeping on your side instead. If you have a tendency to roll over onto your back, try taping a tennis ball to the back of your pajamas to prevent this. Using a body pillow can also help you remain on your side. Try elevating the head of the bed a few inches, or prop yourself up using pillows.
- Losing weight. A majority of those who snore are overweight. Excess weight around the neck can narrow your airway and make you more prone to snoring. Losing 10 percent of your overall weight can make a big difference.
- Avoiding alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxer, reducing muscle tone in the back of your throat and making snoring more likely. You should restrict alcohol intake four to five hours before going to sleep.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates the membranes of the nose and throat, leading to blocked airways and an increased risk of snoring.
- Maintaining a regular sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. An odd schedule can result in too little sleep, which leads to excessive tiredness. When you sleep hard, the muscles become more relaxed, leading to snoring.
- Keeping your nasal passages open. A stuffy nose can prevent air from moving freely, causing snoring. Try taking a hot shower before bed or rinsing your nose with a saline solution or Neti pot. Nasal strips may help keep your nasal passages open.
- Staying hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids to moisten your throat and palate.
- Using a humidifier at night. This will help prevent dry air from irritating the membranes in your nose and throat.
- Playing the didgeridoo. Learning to play this Australian wind instrument can strengthen the soft palate and throat, reducing the odds that you’ll snore.
If lifestyle modifications do not solve the problem, oral appliances that reposition the lower jaw may help. Another alternative is nasal breathing strips. Some individuals might benefit from surgical techniques such as:
- Pillar Procedure. Polyester filament is injected into the soft palate to stiffen it and reduce snoring.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). Excess throat tissue is surgically removed to enlarge the airway. This may include the uvula, soft palate, tonsils, adenoids and/or pharynx.
- Laser Surgery. Lasers are used to remove the uvula and excess tissue from the soft palate.
- Somnoplasty. Also known as radiofrequency tissue ablation, this procedure uses radio signals to shrink the tissue of the soft palate.
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