Snoring is loud breathing during sleep that sounds like unpleasant rattling, vibrating, or sawing. Chronic snoring is snoring that happens most nights, even when you’re not sick or suffering from allergy symptoms.
Loud snoring can reach 100 decibels—loud enough to damage hearing with prolonged exposure.
Is snoring bad for your health? Not just embarrassing or bothersome, snoring can pose serious health threats. Chronic snoring is associated with an increased incidence of neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and stroke.
Regular snoring leads to daytime fatigue, lowers daytime performance, and increases the risk of drowsy driving. Chronic snorers who do not have sleep apnea still have twice the incidence of excessive daytime sleepiness.
People who snore often aren’t aware of the condition. These symptoms are clues that you may be snoring at night:
Waking with a headache
Dry mouth in the morning
Dental decay or cavities
Sudden nighttime awakenings
Wheezing, gasping or coughing during the night
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring occurs as the result of a narrowing of the upper airway or when nasal breathing is obstructed. The soft tissue and muscles of the sleeper’s throat relax, reducing the diameter of the airway. This reduction results in noise when breath enters or exits the airway, just like air flowing through a whistle. Anything that enlarges or relaxes the soft tissues in the mouth and throat can lead to snoring. This is why snoring is more common after drinking alcohol or taking certain sedating medications.
These factors increase the risk of snoring:
Nasal congestion from illness or allergies
Swollen adenoids or tonsils
Large soft palate or uvula
Nasal deformity like a deviated septum
Side effects of some medications
Drinking alcohol, especially before bed
Sleeping on your back
Snoring or Sleep Apnea?
Snoring is not the same as sleep apnea, although the terms are sometimes confused.
Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are conditions involving temporary breathing interruptions during sleep. These breathing pauses can lower blood oxygen levels and allow carbon dioxide to build up in the body.
By contrast, snoring does not involve apneas, or breathing interruptions, during sleep.
However, chronic snoring is a warning sign for sleep apnea. Between 50 to 75 percent of people who snore also have obstructive sleep apnea.
If you snore and notice any of the warning signs of sleep apnea, seek treatment from a doctor
Your snoring is accompanied by pauses, gasps, or snorts that stop your breathing or awaken you at night
You experience excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches and mood or memory problems
You have unexplained weight gain
How Common is Snoring?
Around 45% of adult men and 30% of women snore regularly. Anyone can snore, but certain physical attributes make snoring more likely. Snoring is more common in men than women, and carrying excess body weight increases the risk of snoring. The likelihood of snoring increases with age.
One in three women snore during pregnancy, due to increased body weight, hormone fluctuations, increased pressure on the diaphragm and swelling of the nasal passages.
Around 10 percent of young children snore every night. Babies and newborns snore due to small nasal passages, though this is usually outgrown. As with childhood sleep apnea, chronic snoring in childhood is associated with negative cognitive effects and poor school performance.
Certain disabilities affecting facial features or the architecture of the nose, throat, or nasal passages can make snoring more likely. For example, individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a smaller jaw, a narrower throat, smaller nasal passages, and larger tongues and tonsils, which make snoring more likely.
Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue to relax into the upper airway, increasing snoring risk. Snorers often experience relief by switching to side sleeping.
Behavioral Therapies for Snoring
Snoring damages your health and annoys your bedmate. Fortunately, treatments exist for chronic snoring. Many are simple, natural fixes to try at home. The biggest challenge may be convincing the person who snores that he or she needs intervention.
Natural, low-cost treatment for snoring begins with behavioral interventions. Some snorers can alleviate or completely get rid of symptoms with a few lifestyle changes, such as:
Avoiding sedatives, antihistamines, and stimulants before bed
Exercising to improve muscle tone in the neck
If behavioral changes don’t relieve snoring symptoms, snorers can invest in various anti-snoring products.
While using regular pillows to tilt the body off its back is an option, specialized anti-snoring wedge pillows can accomplish this more effectively. These pillows align the jaw, neck, and throat to maintain open airways. Special body pillows can help snorers maintain a side-sleeping position.
Special sleepwear and clothing accessories are available to promote sleeping on the side. For instance, some nightshirts have a tennis ball sewn in the area that fits between the shoulder blades so that the discomfort stimulates you to move onto your side even while sleeping. Alternately, inflatable belts can mimic the effect of a tennis ball.
Other anti-snoring therapies focus on the nasal passages and airways. Nasal strips that are placed externally on the nose bridge flatten the nose and enhance nasal airflow by increasing the opening of the nostrils and adjacent nasal passages. Nasal strips may offer a low-cost, drug-free way to stop snoring while pregnant.
If nasal congestion causes inflammation and swelling that hinders normal airflow, over-the-counter decongestants can help.
Nose vents are nasal dilators that maximize airflow through the nasal passages. These are typically made of silicone and sold in various sizes, similar to earbuds.
If the snorer also has allergies, air purifiers with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter can reduce the allergens, dust mites, and other particles in your house that may be causing nasal congestion.
Research has shown that a combination of pseudoephedrine and domperidone can help snoring and apnea. Pseudoephedrine is a common cold medicine that reduces nasal congestion and domperidone suppresses nausea and vomiting.
CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy can treat snoring that accompanies sleep apnea. CPAP machines generate air pressure through a mask on the nose and mouth to form an air splint in the throat while the user sleeps. The pressure keeps the airway from collapsing and prevents snoring. Various masks are available that can help individualize this treatment.
Oral appliances are specially formed and fitted dental mouth pieces that can pull the tongue forward, advance the lower jaw, or both. The airway in the throat area opens wider, reducing or preventing snoring. While some appliances are available without medical guidance, many dentists tailor them for patients.
For some patients, oral appliances are more effective than CPAP machines. CPAP machines suffer from notoriously low usage rates because of discomfort. Anti-snoring mouthpieces are smaller, more discreet, more portable and easier to use. Oral devices are also often an effective treatment for teeth grinding (bruxism) during sleep.
Surgery for Snoring
If behavioral therapies or products do not correct snoring, surgical options may help.
Normally, the septum is a small piece of cartilage separating the nostrils. When the septum is pushed to one side or the other, often due to injury, snoring can occur. A septoplasty is a surgery that realigns the septum to improve nasal airflow.
An uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3) removes the uvula hanging from the roof of the soft palate along with some of the soft palatal tissue to expand the opening of the throat. Similar surgeries that are easier to perform also now include Laser Assisted Uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP).
Uvuloplasty is surgery that removes the uvula to open the airway behind the palate. This is usually outpatient surgery and does not require a hospital stay.
Somnoplasty, along with another surgical technique called coblation-channeling, shrink throat tissues with heat, allowing easier breathing. Several treatments are needed. Another option is the injection of sclerosing agents into the soft palate. These agents cause the tissues of the pharynx to scar, and as the scar evolves, the tissues also shrink. While all of these measures can reduce snoring, relapse occurrence of snoring years later is relatively high with these techniques.
A tonsillectomy is a common surgical procedure that removes the tonsils. Located at the back of your throat, tonsils can obstruct breathing if they become enlarged. Having enlarged adenoids can be normal or a result of a condition like Down syndrome. One of the main reasons children get a tonsillectomy is to reduce snoring or sleep apnea symptoms.
Experimental therapies involving radio wave treatments that shrink soft tissues blocking the airway have also shown promise.
Tips for Sleeping with a Snorer
If you sleep with a loud snorer, encourage them to invest in some of the products above (or to see a sleep specialist about possible sleep apnea). However, even with treatment, it’s possible your partner’s snoring won’t go away entirely.
So don’t get mad—get back to sleep instead!
Invest in a white noise machine or smartphone app. White noise machines provide a static background of white noise, which is very effective at drowning out other noise. White noise smartphone apps are gaining in popularity because they don’t take up any extra space, and often include other types of sound libraries such as nature sounds and ambient music.
Use earplugs. Earplugs help reduce noise and come in varying sizes so you can find a good fit for your ears.
Get a larger mattress. Sleeping in separate beds or bedrooms will negatively impact both your intimacy and your wallets. Instead, investing in a larger mattress can be a cheaper alternative that still allows you to maintain your physical closeness as a couple. Plus, having a comfortable mattress also make it easier for you to fall asleep.
Try staggering your bedtimes slightly so that the non-snorer goes to sleep before the snorer. If you are already asleep before your partner begins snoring, you may be less likely to wake up.
Try meditation and relaxation exercises. Insomniacs often rely on meditation, relaxation exercises, and breathing techniques to help them fall asleep at night. These may help you fall asleep despite your partner’s snoring, or help you stay calm and go back to sleep if their snoring wakes you up.