According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 90 million American adults, of all ages and genders, snore. In 37 million of these people, it occurs regularly and is a typical part of their sleeping routine.1 But snoring is no laughing matter, and there is more to it than just “noisy breathing” while sleeping. Not only can it worsen as you age, but it also leads to fragmented and restless sleep – not just for you, but your bed partner as well.
Sleeping is one of the cornerstones of optimal health, and being deficient in high-quality sleep can open you up to all sorts of health problems. Plus, snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing problem that has been linked to a number of health risks (more about this later).
This article will discuss the basics facts on snoring, and how simple changes to your lifestyle, particularly your sleep habits, can make a difference in eliminating this common problem.
Why Do People Snore?
Snoring occurs when the muscles in your throat are in relaxation mode, which is the case when you sleep. As you fall into deep sleep, your throat muscles relax, making the air passageway narrower and floppy. Your tongue also falls backwards. With every breath you take in and out, your throat vibrates – this is what causes the characteristic sound of snoring.
As your airway becomes narrower, the louder the snoring becomes because the vibrations become greater. This is because the air struggles to get through your soft palate, tongue, uvula (the triangle-shaped tissue that hangs from your soft palate) and tonsils. In some cases, obstructions in the airway can occur, causing impaired breathing and louder snoring.2 Sleep apnea is one example of this disorder.
What Causes Snoring? Here Are Some of the Usual Triggers
One of the most common beliefs about snoring is that it’s caused by sleeping on your back. This is somewhat true, as a study found that 54 percent of snorers develop it due to their sleeping position. These people are called “positional snorers,”3 meaning they only snore when they lie on their backs.
However, this is not the only trigger, as there are other underlying factors that may lead to this condition. Aside from your sleeping position, here are the other common causes of snoring:4,5
• The anatomy of your mouth: Having enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a deviated nasal septum (a crooked partition in between your nostrils) or nasal polyps can also worsen the narrowing of the throat during sleep. People who have a low and thick soft palate may also have a narrower airway. Having an elongated uvula may also cause an obstruction.
• Nasal problems: Inflammation in the nose and/or throat, such as when you have a respiratory infection or allergy attack, can lead to snoring. Having chronic nasal congestion can also bring on snoring.
• Sleep deprivation: Failing to get enough sleep at night can cause further throat relaxation.
• Alcohol intake: Drinking alcohol, especially before bedtime, can prompt the throat muscles to relax, as well as lower your natural defenses against airway obstruction.
• Sleep apnea. Also called obstructed sleep apnea (OSA), this refers to impaired breathing brought on by an obstructed airway during sleeping.
OSA affects over one-quarter of women and over half of all men,6 and must be addressed immediately, as it’s been found to lead to an array of health issues, including heart disease,7 gout,8 Type 2 diabetes,9 poor immune function and depression, to name a few.
How Preventing Snoring Can Significantly Affect Your Overall Health
The biggest problem with snoring is that it interferes with sound sleep, which, as mentioned previously, is essential to your optimal well-being. Snorers usually experience restless sleep that leads to daytime drowsiness and difficulty concentrating while doing important tasks. Some snorers also wake up in the middle of the night choking and gasping for breath, although this is rare.10
Remember that lack of sleep can have a number of ramifications, both minor and major, depending on the sleep debt you’ve accumulated. In the long term, a sleep deficiency can trigger a whole host of chronic health problems, from diabetes and obesity to immune problems, and even an increased cancer risk. The daytime drowsiness it causes can also heighten your risk of accidents and occupational errors.
What’s more, snoring itself can significantly impair your relationship with your spouse or partner. Dr. Daniel P. Slaughter, an otolaryngologist and snoring expert at Capital Otolaryngology in Austin, Texas, warns that "snoring can create real problems in a marriage."11
Given all the repercussions linked to this problem, it only makes sense to employ methods to effectively get rid of snoring. Thanks to technology, there are a number of “anti-snoring” devices marketed today that claim to help reduce or eliminate this condition.
These snoring solutions come in various forms – from anti-snoring wristbands that send a small jolt of electricity whenever you snore12 to high-tech “smart beds” with a self-adjusting mattress that tracks the person’s sleeping position, raising the head by a few degrees in order to prevent snoring.13
Some solutions are a bit more old-fashioned, though, such as snoring chin straps and mouthpieces or mouthguards that work by repositioning your jaw in such a way that your airway opens properly.
However, I advise you to take these anti-snore devices with a grain of salt – not all of them have sufficient scientific studies that can support their claims. Some are also poorly designed, such as a chinstrap that covers the wearer’s entire mouth. According to Dr. Richard Schwab, director the Pennsylvania Sleep Center, this is a terrible idea. "You should never cover your mouth — you could choke," he said.
Try These Simple Home Remedies for Snoring
Instead of immediately resorting to the mentioned products above, I recommend trying these lifestyle strategies and home remedies to get rid of snoring and have more restful, quiet nights.
Sleep sideways. For some, this simple remedy may be effective, as it prevents the tongue from falling backward in the throat and causing an obstruction in the airway.
Raise the head of your bed. Doing this can help prevent your airways from collapsing. Try placing a 4-inch-thick wedge or block under your mattress to elevate it.
Try using dental appliances. Some dentists can help construct a device that will change your airway’s opening, leaving sufficient room for your tongue so it does not obstruct your airway.
Use a steam bowl. Just before bedtime, put your head over a bowl of hot water, cover it with a towel and inhale the steam deeply. This will help clear out your airways and minimize swelling in your nasal passages.
Do not eat a large meal at night. A full stomach can push against your diaphragm, further hindering your ability to breathe easily.
Manage your weight. Overweight people typically have extra tissues in their throat, which contribute to snoring.
Do tongue and throat exercises. These can make these body parts stronger and less likely to slip backwards. Here’s one simple technique:
• Lightly put your upper and lower molars together.
• Open your mouth, focusing on pressing your molars as wide apart as you can, but do not overstretch.
• Do this 10 to 20 times. After the 5th or 10th repetition, your jaw muscles should feel stronger, and the back of your mouth should open up.
Try nasal strips or an external nasal dilator. These adhesive strips can be applied to the bridge of your nose so that your nasal passage area can be broadened, improving your breathing.
Meanwhile, dilators are applied externally across the nostrils to decrease airflow resistance and allow easier breathing (Take note that this will not work for those who have sleep apnea).
Avoid alcohol and tobacco use. It relaxes your tongue and throat muscles and leads to worse snoring. Meanwhile, smoking irritates the lining of your throat and nose, causing it to swell and decreasing airflow.
Don’t drink milk before bedtime. It can make snoring worse since it forms a mucus layer over your throat and tongue. If you’re thirsty, drink plain water instead.
Alleviate nasal congestion due to an infection or allergy. Since congestion limits airflow going through your nose, you’re forced to breathe through your mouth, prompting you to snore.
Avoid taking sedatives. Like alcohol, these drugs can depress your central nervous system and excessively relax your muscles, including the tissues in your throat.
In addition to these techniques, you must make sure to get sufficient sleep every night. In a review of over 300 studies, a panel of experts found that the ideal sleep amount for most adults is around eight hours per night.14 If you’re sleep deprived, I invite you to try my 33 sleep aid secrets to help address your problem.
Essential Oils Can Also Help With Snoring
High-quality essential oils have a wide array of medicinal uses, and in one study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research,15 they were found to potentially help alleviate snoring. After using a blend that contained essential oils like thyme, lavender, eucalyptus and sage, 82 percent of the respondents (who were partners of patients who snore) claimed that their sleeping companions had noticeably reduced snoring.16 Some of the best oils that can help ease snoring include:17
These oils can be added to a diffuser or inhaled via steam inhalation. You can also rub them on your chest or near your nasal cavity, but make sure they are properly diluted in a safe carrier oil before doing so. Do a skin patch test as well to ensure that you have no allergies to the oil.
Should You Consider Surgery to Stop Snoring?
People who have struggled with snoring sometimes feel as if they have no other choice but to undergo surgery. However, keep in mind that surgery should only be a final resort. Since this is an invasive procedure, chances are that it may come with more severe and potentially health-harming side effects. Examples of surgical procedures for snoring include:18
• Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): While you’re under general anesthesia, the doctor will tighten and trim excess tissues from your throat. Take note that it may come with pain, bleeding, infection and nasal congestion.
• Somnoplasty: After you’ve received a local anesthetic, the doctors will shrink the tissue in your soft palate using a low-intensity radiofrequency signal. This procedure is also called radiofrequency tissue ablation.
• Laser-assisted uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (LAUPPP): The goal is to shorten your soft palate and remove the uvula. Excess tissue will also be removed to enlarge your airway and minimize vibrations. This is an outpatient procedure and usually, more than one session is needed.
• Palatal implants: Also called the pillar procedure, this entails injecting braided polyester filament strands into your soft palate to stiffen it. While it’s said that there are no serious side effects associated with this procedure, its safety and long-term benefits are still being investigated.
Again, please only turn to these procedures as a final resort and only if you’ve exhausted all of the safe remedies mentioned above. Make sure you thoroughly discuss with your physician the potential risks involved so that you’re fully aware of what you’re stepping into.
If Snoring Is Brought on by Sleep Apnea, You May Need Professional Help
Take note that if snoring comes with other alarming symptoms, then it may be a case of sleep apnea. These symptoms include:
• Waking up with a sore or dry throat
• Occasionally waking up with a gasping or choking sensation
• Recurrent awakenings or insomnia
• Forgetfulness, mood changes or decreased interest in sexual intercourse
Because sleep apnea can provoke or exacerbate other health problems, it is absolutely important to address this breathing problem immediately. Unfortunately, the conventional treatment for this is using a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure), which works by using air pressure to open your airway, allowing you to breathe.
But CPAP only addresses the symptoms – it does not address the root of the problem. Plus, the machine can be noisy and difficult to use, maintain and/or clean. Some also find it cumbersome to have a mask strapped to their face while sleeping.
Fortunately, there are alternative ways to address sleep apnea without resorting to a CPAP. Oral myofunctional therapy and the Buteyko Breathing Method may be effective strategies you can try. To learn more about sleep apnea and how to deal with this breathing disorder, read my article “What Is Sleep Apnea?”