If your spouse or bed-partner snores and keeps you up at night, then you’re not alone. Most people snore at least occasionally, while about 25% snore all the time. Snoring is a major problem that not only can affect your relationship, but your health as well (snorer and snoree).
Snoring may be a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where you literally stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause or aggravate depression, anxiety, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Even if you don’t have sleep apnea officially, studies have shown that snorers have a much higher risk for relationship problems, car accidents, and cognitive impairment.
One important thing to note is that you don’t have to snore to have sleep apnea. Even young, thin women who don’t snore can have significant sleep apnea.
Here’s a checklist of the 7 “musts” of snoring cessation. Try these simple strategies before you resort to more invasive and expensive options:
1. Don’t eat within 3-4 hours of bedtime.
If you snore, chances are, you’ll stop breathing once in a while. When you do stop breathing, you’ll create a vacuum effect in your throat which suctions up your normal stomach juices into your throat, causing you to wake up partially or fully. This also causes more swelling and inflammation which narrows your throat and nose even further. This leads to less efficient sleep, leading to weight gain, which narrows your throat even further.
2. Don’t drink alcohol within 3-4 hours of bedtime.
Alcohol is a strong muscle relaxant, so it will make your throat muscles more slack and more apt to collapse and obstruct. And any obstruction around your airway as you sleep means more snoring.
3. Don’t sleep on your back.
Due to gravity, everyone’s tongues can fall back when on our backs. This narrows the space behind the tongue and along with muscle relaxation during deep sleep, you’ll snore more and stop breathing more often. The traditional recommendation for pinning a tennis ball to the back of your pajama shirt ma work for a few people, but there are a lot more sophisticated ways to keep you off your back.
4. Clear up your nose.
Make sure that you’re able to breathe properly through your nose, since having a stuffy nose will create a slight vacuum effect in your throat, aggravating partial to total collapse of the soft palate and the tongue. Whether through over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications, or with surgery, get this taken care of first. Unfortunately, this works only sometimes and in many cases, nothing changes. Regardless, if you need further treatment, you need to be able to breathe through your nose for the other options to work. It’s been shown that definitively optimizing nasal breathing through surgery cures obstructive sleep apnea in only 10% of cases.
An interesting study published about 10 years ago showed that when given a nasal decongestant as well as a medicine that helps to empty the stomach faster, about 80% of snoring was significantly improved.
5. Lose weight.
Needless to say, this is easier said than done. One of the reasons why you may be overweight is because you don’t sleep well. Less efficient sleep promotes weight gain, which not only cause you to expand on the outside, but also narrow in on the inside of your upper airways. But how about some of you who are not overweight, or even very skinny? Snoring and sleep-breathing problems occur due to a structural narrowing of the entire upper airway, from the tip of your nose to your voice box.
6. Try any of the various over-the-counter anti-snore gadgets, devices, and pills.
But don’t expect dramatic results. Yes, sometimes, it’ll help with your snoring, but even if it works, the effects don’t usually last. The reason why you snore is due to your jaw anatomy and additional inflammation. Covering it up with any of these options is only a temporary solution. A study showed that compared with controls, the throat spray, nasal dilator strips, and anti-snore pillow was not any better.
7. Seek medical help.
If all the above don’t work, it’s time to see an ear, nose and throat doctor. A comprehensive exam is needed to find out which areas of your upper airway (from the tip of the nose to the voice box). We know that for most people it’s the soft palate that flutters, making the annoying, chainsaw sounds. Usually, snorers will have a combination of areas that contribute to snoring, with the tongue being the most common culprit, due to having small jaws.
In most cases, a sleep study is needed to check to see if you have obstructive sleep apnea. If you do have sleep apnea, then treating this condition will help your snoring. Even if you don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, all the different treatment options for sleep apnea can be used. As I mentioned in Step #4, you must first optimize nasal breathing and then deal with your tongue. The timing for eating and drinking alcohol is something that you should continue for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, things only tend to get worse as you age. The soft tissues in your throat tend to sag and collapse, especially after decades of repeated strong inspiration. This is why it’s important to get your snoring taken care of, first using the conservative steps outlined in his article, and later by seeing a physician that can help you with this condition.