One writer said her husband’s snoring sounded “like a vacuum cleaner in heat.” Another said it, “drowns out the noise of passing trains.” There are countless products and practices that promise to end snoring. But do they work?
If you or someone you sleep near needs to stop snoring, it helps to understand the cause. The solution may be as easy as cutting down on alcohol before bedtime.
Why snoring isn’t funny
Snoring is the butt of many quips, but it’s not a laughing matter. If it regularly causes a sleep neighbor (a term I prefer to “partner,” because snoring can disturb non-partners, even in another room) please get your doctor’s advice on treatment. Snoring has been known to ruin close relationships.
And that’s not the only risk. For example, you might have sleep apnea, which, if untreated, is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. If you’re overweight, have a hormonal imbalance, a fatty or otherwise impaired liver—these and many other serious disorders all can be signaled by loud snoring.
Of course, you can snore without having apnea, or other health problems.
So I repeat: talk about your snoring with your doctor. When you sleep, the muscles surrounding your throat relax and enlarge enough to partially narrow your throat’s air passageway. So you have to breathe harder to force air through these partially blocked airways, which causes your soft palate tissue and uvula to vibrate, resulting in snoring.
With every breath, our muscles force air through our throats into our lungs. The amount of effort required is called inspiratory resistance—which can be measured in a sleep lab.
When we sleep, inspiratory resistance is higher than when we’re awake, largely because your sleeping weight presses on your lungs when you’re in a horizontal position.
So we all automatically take longer, deeper breaths when sleeping. For non-snorers, inspiratory resistance level nearly doubles while we sleep. For snorers, inspiratory resistance increases by more than four times the daytime level.
Those longer, deeper breaths make the soft tissue in your throat vibrate longer, harder—and more noisily.
Structural abnormalities like a deviated septum or smaller-than-average nasal/throat passages can also be the culprit. In these cases surgery may be your only option.
But, before you take that leap, there are plenty of non-surgical solutions that just might do the trick.
As with many medical problems, there are do-it-yourself dietary and behavioral/lifestyle solutions. If you’re a smoker, stop…immediately. I don’t need to get into the myriad diseases you’re opening yourself up to. But the hot smoke irritates your mouth, lungs and the lining of your throat, making snoring far more likely.
If you’re overweight, achieving a healthier weight can help tremendously. And there are snoring-specific exercises I’ll cover a bit later.
But if you’re not a smoker and weight isn’t an issue for you, one or more of these solutions might be what you or your sleep neighbor needs.
When alcohol gets through our digestive system into our blood and then our brain, it stimulates a relaxation response that calms anxiety. It uncannily mimics our relaxation response to a naturally occurring substance that’s also active in the brain—GABA.
So you double GABA’s anxiety-calming effects. And every muscle in your body relaxes, including those in the mouth and of throat responsible for snoring. That explains “one more for the road” or the “nightcap.” You’re not anxious about the effects of that “one more.”
Alcohol is not the only cause of snoring, but it is a big one for people who have snoring problems only sometimes.
The remedy? No alcohol for at least a few hours before going to bed, especially if you already suffer from snoring problems.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) does far more harm than good, as does piling our dinner plates with probably double the amount of food we need.
As I said earlier, losing weight is a big help for snoring.
Also try avoiding pro-inflammatory foods like over sugared, over-salted, processed foods, as they can also irritate the lining of the throat making snoring more likely.
A surprising number of people don’t know how to breathe properly.
“How can this be, Dr. Connealy? Everyone breathes.”
Well, there are two kinds of breathing—chest breathing and abdominal (also known as diaphragmatic, belly, or deep) breathing.
Most people only chest breathe, filling their lungs with air without also filling the diaphragm. This limits oxygen intake to only 5 percent of the total inhalation.
Abdominal breathing happens when you inhale using your diaphragm. You know you’re doing it when you first feel your stomach expand, and then your lungs.
This doubles your oxygen intake to 10 percent. It can make a huge improvement in snoring cessation—and your overall health, as well.
There are many sites online that will teach you deep abdominal breathing, along with exercises to keep you going.
A product called BreathSlim includes a device to help you learn and practice until proper breathing becomes automatic.
Simple exercises can strengthen your throat muscles to help keep your airway open when you sleep. Many of them take only take a few minutes a day.
The warm ups that professional singers do are a great way to start getting your throat in shape. So are sticking your tongue out and moving it or smiling as widely as you can. It looks funny, but it works. You can find lots of recommendations online.
When there are hundreds of solutions on the market, you know for sure there’s a serious problem.
Here’s a rundown of the basic types of products. You should discuss all of you options with your doctor or dentist—some work for some people but not for others.
Tongue retaining mouthpieces hold the tongue in place to relax the mouth and throat and help keep the airway open
Jaw retaining mouthpieces move the lower jaw slightly forward to allow the air passage to remain open while sleeping
These devices, also known as jaw supporters, keep the mouth closed during sleep, which keeps the soft palate at the top of the mouth from blocking the airway. They work only for those who snore from the throat.
Special pillows elevate the head during sleep to allow the throat to open up and remain open.
Hundreds of different anti-snoring sprays line the pharmacy shelves. How well they work varies from person to person. I recommend you avoid synthetic chemical sprays in favor of natural ones.
These are small, flexible devices that are placed in the nostrils to open up the nasal passages to allow for maximum oxygen intake.
Flexible adhesive strips are placed across the nose, holding the nostrils open wider for more air intake.
Sleeping on your back makes snoring more likely, so there are products that make doing so uncomfortable, like a combination of straps and pillows that poke you if you roll over on to your back.
There are a number of wristbands and bracelets that deliver a small electric shock when you snore.
I wish I could be more definitive about what works best. But we’re all different.
Your solution could be as simple as changing your nighttime alcohol consumption or trying some exercises you can find online.
The main thing is to consult with your doctor for his or her advice…and try something—anything.
And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
“Snoring and Sleep” National Sleep Foundation. Published NA. Last accessed February 2, 2017.
“Exercise as a Snoring Solution” Snoring Devices. Published NA. Last accessed February 2, 2017.
Ross, Erin “Do Anti-Snoring Gadgets Really Work?” NPR Morning Edition. Published January 4, 2017. Last accessed February 2, 2017.
“Quit Yer Snoring” Quit Yer Snoring. Published NA. Last accessed February 2, 2017
“Snoring quotes”com. Published NA. Last accessed February 4, 2017.
“Respiratory trainer” Published NA. Last accessed February 2, 2017.
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