Snoring: Bringing back the sound of silence

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Snoring: Bringing back the sound of silence

Around the world, the sound of silence is being disrupted by snoring.  Millions of people snore and very likely whomever they are sharing a bed with is not getting a good night’s sleep. If the snoring is occasional it may not be a problem.  But when it is chronic and loud (some snores can exceed 90 decibels), it can result in daytime sleepiness and irritability and could indicate obstructive sleep apnea.

Why do some people snore?

Snoring is a general term for the sound some people make while breathing during sleep. Snores can be unique to each specific person ranging from vibration of structures of the throat most commonly involving the soft palate (back of the roof of the mouth). Some people when they sleep, the muscles in their body relax which allows these structure to vibrate as air flows by them.  When these same people are awake, these muscles are active and the structures are much less likely to vibrate during breathing.

Not all snoring is caused by the soft palate alone. All of us have a soft palate yet not everyone snores. Even though the major source of the sound is from the soft palate, another part of snoring is related to the flow of air by the soft palate.  People who snore typically have air flowing through the nose and throat that is more turbulent or uneven, then people who do not snore. It is this lack of smooth airflow that allows the soft palate to vibrate producing the snoring sound.

Other causes of snoring can include structures that vibrate the sides of the throat and also the epiglottis, a structure in the throat that prevents food and liquids from going into the lungs. Usually people with obstructive sleep apnea and who snore is due to the lateral walls and epiglottis that contribute to their snoring.

Who is more likely to snore?

·      Men - they outnumber women in snoring and they typically start to snore in their late 30s and 40s with the snoring intensifying after the age of 50.

·      Women are more likely to begin snoring after menopause

·      Anyone who has trouble breathing through their nose

·      Being overweight or obese

·      The natural aging process – skin develops wrinkles due to loss of collagen in the skin that gives it tightness.

·      Pregnancy

Home remedies for snoring 

There are certain changes one can make to reduce the incidence of snoring.  Even though snoring in and of itself is not particularly harmful, it can be very annoying to a bedmate preventing them from getting a good night’s sleep.

Anyone who has been told they snore loudly or that their snoring is punctuated by quiet intervals of a few seconds to two minutes, followed again by a gasp or short and loud snoring, needs to be seen by their doctor.  This could indicate sleep apnea which requires treatment. Sleep apnea increases the risk for a host of ailments, including high blood pressure.  

In the meantime, here are some techniques that may help stop snoring:

·      Avoid heavy meals and alcohol within three hours of bedtime – Eating heavily before turning in, or drinking alcohol causes greater-than-normal relaxation of the throat muscles, which may cause a non-snorer to snore.

·      Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime – Most of these medications relax throat muscles tone, just like alcohol and can cause snoring.

·      Lose weight if you are obese – Snoring may be linked to increased fat in the structures around the throat, which diminishes the size of the air passages.  If you have a tendency to snore, it will get worse when you gain weight.

·      Avoid sleeping on your back – This position may lead to snoring because the tongue falls back and presses against the top of the airways. The best sleep position is on the side.

·      Elevate your head when sleeping on your back – You can try a wedge pillow that can elevate your head and neck some 10 inches.

·      Seek treatment for problems that cause nasal obstruction – If you have allergies, contact an allergy specialist for testing and treatment. If you have nasal congestion due to a cold, try a saline nasal spray or use a decongestant for a short term.

·      Freshen bedroom air – When the room is hot and dry, nasal passages become clogged during sleep, and this often leads to snoring. Keep windows open and if necessary, use a humidifier to keep the nasal passages moist while you sleep.

·      If you smoke, quit – Along with its many destructive consequences, smoking has an irritant effect that causes mucus buildup, inflammation, and swelling of the pharynx as well as bronchial congestion, all of which can contribute to snoring.

·      Try an anti-snoring device – There are many over-the-counter devices from mouthpieces, nasal dilators, to contoured pillows claiming to cure snoring.  Do they help?  Possibly – most are harmless and worth a try but they won’t help all snorers.