Snoring: How Bad Is It?
Why Do We Snore?
The noisy sounds of snoring occur as a result of narrowing or obstruction of the airway during sleep. When we sleep, the muscles of the airway—including the mouth, nose, and throat—relax, and the passages may become smaller. Breath moving through these narrowed passages causes the soft tissues of the airway to vibrate. That vibration creates the sounds of snoring.
There is the obvious one—the noising breathing that takes place while you sleep. In addition, there are other symptoms that go along with snoring. Many people are not aware that they snore. It’s important to recognize these other, waking symptoms of a possible snoring condition:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Headaches in the morning
- Troubles with memory, learning, concentration
- Mood swings, short-temperedness, anxiousness, depression
- Needing to get up often throughout the night to use the bathroom
Some people are more likely to snore than others. Snoring occurs somewhat more often in men than women. Snoring is not uncommon in women, and becomes more common during pregnancy. Snoring becomes more prevalent with age, for both men and women. Other risk factors for snoring include:
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol
- Nasal conditions, including deviated septum or frequent congestion
- Family history of snoring or other sleep-disrupted breathing
In some instances, the shape and construction of a person’s airway, head, or neck may predispose them to snoring, even when other risk factors are not present.
Link to Sleep Apnea
In some cases snoring is a symptom of another sleep disorder: obstructive sleep apnea. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Millions of men and women do suffer from sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that requires medical treatment, many of them undiagnosed. Snoring is one of the key symptoms of this disorder. Snoring may be loud, but loud snoring in and of itself is not a clear sign of sleep apnea. Sleep-apnea snoring may be intermittent, with pauses in noise followed by loud gasps, choking or snorting sounds. Often, it is sleeping partners who will observe these episodes.
The link between snoring and sleep apnea is one important reason snoring should never be ignored. Without treatment, sleep apnea increases risks for other serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Treatments for Snoring
There are several effective treatment options to help with snoring. Whatever treatment option you pursue, it’s important to deal with a snoring problem promptly, before it causes damage to your health or progresses to a more serious sleep disorder.
Lifestyle changes. There are number of behavioral changes that can significantly improve or even eliminate snoring habit. Losing weight is a great first step for anyone who snores—excess weight is a serious risk factor for snoring. Exercising regularly can also help mitigate a snoring condition. Smoking aggravates the tissues of the airway, and makes snoring more likely, so add this to the reasons that stopping smoking is a good idea. Not drinking excessively, and avoiding alcohol with 3-4 hours of bedtime, may also aid in reducing snoring.
Positional therapy. Snoring is often triggered or made worse by sleeping on the back, which encourages a narrowing of the airway. Sleeping on one side may reduce or eliminate snoring for some people. Using a pillow that supports the head and neck, or other sleep equipment that encourages side sleeping can also help. So can sleeping with the head slightly elevated.
Oral appliances. These devices, prescribed by sleep specialists often in consultation with dentists, are worn during sleep. They help to position the jaw and tongue to keep the airway open and avoid disrupted, noisy breathing and snoring.
In cases where snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, these forms of treatment may still apply. In addition, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is an important source of treatment and relief for both apnea and snoring.