Snoring: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention
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Snoring is night time noise created in the nose and mouth, caused by vibrating tissues within the airways. These vibrations are the result of blocked or restricted airways, and can be affected by sleeping position, stage of sleep, alcohol, or health related issues.
What Is Snoring?
When sleeping, our muscles relax. The esophagus (the muscle at the top of the throat) relaxing can cause the throat to narrow. The same amount of air per breath must pass through this narrowed space as it does during the day, and thus it must pass through at higher speeds. This typically means the rushing air causes the respiratory structures to vibrate, making the noise we know as snoring.
Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.
There are a few areas of the mouth which can be vibrated by this air. One is the soft palate, a stretched flap of tissue at the back of the mouth. The uvula, which dangles in the throat, can also be vibrated by the air. And, particularly for those who sleep on their back, the tongue can relax and the base of it fall backwards, slightly blocking the throat.
What Causes Snoring?
- Stage of Sleep. Snoring is most common during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when the muscles of the whole body are most relaxed.
- Sleeping Position. Sleeping usually takes place lying down, so gravity can interfere with the soft tissues of the mouth and throat. Lying on the back is particularly likely to block your airways, as the softer, relaxed tissues within the throat will likely fall backwards. The blocking of the airway is what causes the vibrations we recognise as snoring.
- Medications And Alcohol. Medications or drugs which are cause deeper sleep and in the depressant family can more muscle relaxation. And more muscle relaxation can mean more snoring for some individuals.
- A Thicker Neck. Being overweight and carrying a lot of tissue around the throat can put more pressure on the airway and thus worsen snoring. Children with large tonsils can often have a similar effect. Pregnant women are also more prone to snoring because of weight gain around the neck.
- Age. As one gets older, one typically loses muscle tone throughout the body This can have an impact on snoring, as muscles are more prone to relax and cause obstructions in the airways.
- . Some people are just built more likely to snore. A longer uvula or larger soft palate are two main body parts which can increase likelihood of snoring.
What Are The Side Effects Of Snoring?
- Disrupting Others. For those who share a bed (and sometimes even a house) with a snorer, sleep can become hugely disrupted. Snoring can be loud and hugely irritating. Many people report having to leave or make the snorer leave the bedroom. Snoring can even lead to relationship problems because of this.
- Disordered Sleep. Many people who struggle with snoring have disrupted sleep themselves, even if they don’t notice it. This can lead to grogginess, irritability, lack of concentration or attention span, and even headaches and loss of appetite.
- Sore Throat. The constant vibrations in the throat over a long period of time can cause irritation and tenderness over time, which can be very painful.
- Dry Mouth. Snoring usually results in sleeping with the mouth open, which over the course of a night can make the mouth dry out. This can be uncomfortable and cause other issues such as mouth ulcers.
- Sleep Apnea. Sometimes snoring can be a symptom of a more serious sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a condition categorised by long gaps between breaths during sleep, and can be quite dangerous. If snoring is particularly persistent and troubling, it is worth getting checked out to be sure.
There are two broad types of snoring – the mild to moderate, inconvenient kind; and a more serious health condition.
If you feel your snoring is negatively impacting your health, it’s important to talk to a health professional. The points below should not be used in place of advice from a qualified medical professional.
- Lifestyle Changes. Many small lifestyle changes can make a difference to snoring, such as losing even a small amount of weight, cutting back on alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, fine tuning any medications and trying new sleeping positions.
- Sleeping Accessories. Some snorers try out sleeping clothes with a pocket in the back, into which they can insert a ball. The ball makes lying on the back very uncomfortable and trains the snorer into favoring a different, less snore-inducing sleeping position. There are also special pillows to discourage back sleeping.
- Dental Devices. There can be special in-mouth molds in order to stop the tongue falling into the throat, or hold the soft palette forwards. These devices can be extremely successful, but they’re also expensive and must be worn every night to work properly.
- Nasal Devices. Special nasal strips for snoring can be easily purchased at a lower cost. They hold the anterior nasal valve open, which is the front part of the nose. If the snoring is caused by nasal blockages, these can be successful, however usually snoring also happens in the throat for which these have no effect.
- Nasal CPAP. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a non-surgical treatment which provides a steady flow of air to the lungs through the nasal passages. It’s a common treatment for sleep apnea, so can help the snoring caused by it. However, it involves sleeping connected to a machine, which can be inconvenient or impractical.
- Over The Counter Medications. Some people find success in products like nasal saline sprays or decongestants. These are typically more effective for milder cases.
- Surgery. If snoring is particular disruptive and persistent, one may wish to discuss the option of surgery with a doctor. There are a wide variety of both nasal and oral surgical options to consider.
Related: Best Mattress for Snoring
Snoring and Pillows
There are two main ways to use pillows to ease snoring. One is by making the head significantly higher than the body, which helps ease strain on the neck and throat muscles. The other is a pillow which encourages a side sleeping position, as back sleeping is a major cause of snoring.
Using a firm, thick pillow, or even elevating under the pillow or mattress with a small pile of books, is a great way to elevate the head. In terms of side sleeping, an orthopedic pillow may be helpful. Some find side sleep uncomfortable because of the pressure on the neck. An orthopedic pillow offers much more support to the head and relieves this pressure, meaning back sleep may not be the only comfortable option.
Snoring Home Remedies
Alongside lifestyle changes mentioned above, there are a few home remedies to help counter snoring. If snoring is caused by nasal congestion, a natural decongestant like peppermint or eucalyptus oil on the pillow could ease the problem. Peppermint tea is also helpful in easing congestion and soothing esophageal inflammation, as is goldenseal. Sinus issues can also be helped by sleeping with a humidifier or using a neti pot. This can be particularly helpful in drier, desert climates.
If snoring is caused by acid reflux and digestive issues, spearmint and fenugreek could be of use. Fenugreek is also useful in aiding sleep apnea. Overeating or eating a lot of dairy just before sleep can also worsen snoring, thanks to the production of mucus they prompt. So limiting food, particularly dairy, just before bed can help lessen snoring.
There are also exercises that can be done to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, neck and throat. If these muscles are strong, they’re less likely to overly relax during the night and cause snoring.
For Nose Related Snoring:
- Peppermint or eucalyptus oil on the pillow.
For Throat Related Snoring:
- Peppermint or goldenseal tea.
- Throat and neck muscle strengthening exercises.
For Digestion Related Snoring:
- Spearmint tea.
- Fenugreek supplements.
- Limiting food (and particularly dairy) before bedtime.
There are a wide variety of different types of anti-snoring devices on the market, particularly in the form of pillows, nasal strips, mouth pieces and chin straps. Whether one will work, and which one is the best choice for you, depends on the kind of snorer you are.
If you snore with your mouth closed, it’s likely an issues with the nasal passages, so a nose trip which holds the nostrils open could be of benefit. If you’re an open mouthed snorer, the issue is more likely to be in the mouth and throat. For this, a mouthpiece or chin strap could work better to stop the over-relaxation of the throat muscles. Anti snoring pillows can be more successful across all types of snoring, but particularly for those who persistently snore when sleeping on their back.
Although sometimes thought of as a trivial problem, snoring can have huge effects on sleep and relationships with others, and in extreme cases can be a symptom of a much more serious problem. While there are plenty of at-home methods to aid mild to moderate snoring issues, nothing can substitute the expertise of a health professional. If snoring is truly adversely affecting your life, and you feel you have exhausted the potential of at-home remedies, there will be something that can be done to ameliorate the problem — it’s about finding it and discussing it with your healthcare professional.