Snoring is a sign that breathing is being obstructed during sleep. The typical sound heard is actually the sound of the walls of the throat, the roof of the mouth and the base of the tongue vibrating. Normally, when a person lies down to sleep, the muscles behind the tongue that hold the throat open, relax and collapse on themselves. This leads to the airway narrowing and restricting the airflow in and out of the lungs.
In most people, this narrowing has no effect and goes unnoticed. However, in others this narrowing becomes so much that it restricts breathing and leads to snoring. If the muscles completely collapse, no air can pass through and the person stops breathing altogether. This condition is called obstructive sleep apnoea.
Most people snore at some time during their life, and it is estimated that about a quarter of people are regular snorers.
Men are about twice as likely to snore as women. Men over the age of 50 who are overweight are particularly likely to be affected. Although snoring is not a serious problem and usually goes unnoticed by the person snoring, it can be particularly annoying for the person’s partner and for other members of the household who may be affected by the noise.
What Causes Snoring
- Anything that restricts airflow through the throat during sleep can cause snoring and sleep apnoea.
- People who are overweight, especially if they have a thick neck (collar size of 17 and higher), are prone to snoring because of the extra pressure placed on the muscles around the throat.
- Colds and allergies can all irritate or block the nasal passages, which can lead to snoring.
- Alcohol and some sedatives are also to blame because they relax the throat and affect normal breathing.
- Sleeping on one’s back increases snoring as the tongue falls towards the back of the throat and restricts the flow of air.
There are more serious causes of snoring and these include damage to the nose or throat and a malformed lower jaw.
Snoring in children is mainly caused by enlarged tonsils.
- The obvious symptom of snoring and sleep apnoea is the typical snorting and grunting sound made during sleep.
- Also, if the person experiences excessive tiredness during the day, especially during quiet activities like reading, watching television or long-distance driving, he or she may be suffering from heavy snoring or sleep apnoea at night.
- This is because sleep during the night is being severely disturbed, even though the person may not be aware that it is happening.
- The person sleeping with someone who has sleep apnoea may also notice the periods when breathing stops.
- If snoring is particularly severe, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is an effective treatment for sleep apnoea and works by delivering pressurised air through a mask that is worn at night. The pressurised air forces the throat open and allows normal breathing.
- There are also devices that can be inserted by dentists that push the lower jaw forward and, in doing so, help breathing.
Healthy Living Tips
- Simple lifestyle changes can help snoring and sleep apnoea.
- It may help to stop smoking, cut down on alcohol
- If overweight, lose a few pounds.
- Take regular exercise to help strengthen muscles.
- Sleep on your side rather than on your back.
- Sleep in a well-ventilated room.
- Try to get in the habit of breathing through your nose rather than through your mouth.
- If your nose is blocked, raise your pillow and sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus oil or lavender oil on your pillow to help ease nasal congestion.
- Nasal strips applied across the nose can also help keep the nasal passages open and help you breathe more easily.
- Gum shields such as those used in sport are thought to greatly help snoring and sleep apnoea.