Whether you deny it, have woken yourself up doing it or have to share a bed with a partner who does it, we’ve all had to sleep through snoring. Like it or not, nearly half of us will snore at some point in our lives. That means half of us will risk being banished to the couch, karate chopped in the ribs or narrowly escaping being smothered by your own pillow! While some types of snoring may be non-serious (even amusing), other types may actually be a symptom of certain health risks. Moreover, your snoring may actually be making it difficult for your partner to fall asleep! Want to save yourself and your relationship? From a gentle snuffle to a chronic problem, we’ve got the low down on all your snoring concerns to help you – and your other half – get better sleep quality.
What is snoring?
Snoring occurs when the air that you are breathing in and out during sleep cannot move freely and causes vibration in the surrounding tissues. When you fall asleep, the muscles at the back of your throat relax and your tongue falls into the gap. The movement of air through this gap creates the noises we associate with snoring. The severity (and decibel level) of snoring depends on the physical size of the gap and the amount of tissue obscuring the passageways. Some people are born with more tissue than others, so are more likely to snore (and snore more loudly) than those who have less.
Is it true men snore more than the fairer sex?
Whatever your gender, many people are in denial that they snore, but a report by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that nearly 40% of adult men are regular snorers, compared to just 24% of women. But is this just down to environment and health or can it be blamed on genes? Sorry ladies, we may just be about to give a get-out-of-jail-free card to the men of this world. Males have larger airways and their larynx is further down their neck meaning they have a much larger space for airflow – and as the size of this space is directly connected the volume and frequency of snoring, men are consistently more prolific nocturnal noisemakers. In addition, men carry their weight in the top half of their bodies, so once horizontal have considerably more pressure on their throat and airways than their female counterparts.
What makes you more likely to snore?
Apart from being male, there are many factors that make you more likely to snore than the average joe.
As you age, your muscles lose tone in your throat the same as anywhere else in your body, so are more likely to become an obstruction.
Being overweight or unfit
Although males are more likely to snore due to weight from tissue, fat and muscle pressure in the neck region when lying down, any excess weight you are carrying, whether male or female, will become an issue when you are horizontal.
Medication & Lifestyle
Smoking, alcohol and some medications can cause muscle relaxation which might be great to get you to sleep, can ironically mean you may have a less-than-perfect night’s sleep due to your snoring.
If you are suffering from a cold, hay fever or other irritation to your nose, then the difficulty in breathing this causes will undoubtedly increase your snoring or cause it if you are not a regular sufferer.
Some people are just unlucky and are born with physical attributes that make snoring a given- a narrow throat, swollen adenoids or palate abnormalities are just some examples.
It’s vital to discount medical conditions causing your snoring before you attempt to reduce your suffering. Sleep apnea is most commonly associated with snoring, and can be life-threatening as your breathing stops briefly multiple times during a night’s sleep. If someone’s snoring sounds more like a gasp for air or a choking sound, they wake themselves up during the night struggling for breath or they suffer from extreme fatigue during the day due to exhaustion, it’s time to call in the doctor for a sleep study. The good news is that there are many treatments that may help alleviate or mitigate some of the negative health consequences of sleep apnea and help you get the sleep you deserve!
I can’t hear myself snore so why should I care?
A snoring partner may make it difficult for you to get proper sleep. Because of that, it’s vital to make your time sleeping together as important as your time awake together. If your partner’s snoring is really affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, please make sure you have an honest conversation. Many couples make the choice to stagger their sleep times or to sleep in separate bedrooms. Dealing with snoring in a productive, supportive manner can positively affect a couple’s intimacy and can bring new levels of understanding and communication to a relationship.
What can I do to help myself – or my noisy partner?
There are many things that you can do to help with the frequency and noise level of your affliction and help you both sleep better.
Exercise and health
Losing a little weight and reducing the pressure on the throat might be all it takes to cure your snoring. It’s one of the simplest solutions that everyone can try before exploring more drastic measures.
Some foods, such as dairy and soy, have been shown to affect throat tissues and might be advisable to avoid before bedtime.
By working on the muscles in the throat and tongue, studies have suggested that snoring can be reduced. If it appeals to you, singing is also a great alternative!
Bed and bedding
Once you’ve hit the sack, it’s not too late to make some changes. Your mattress should be supportive enough that it follows the contours of your spine, therefore encouraging your neck to be relaxed yet aligned correctly to allow optimum airflow during nighttime breathing. In fact, elevating your head a couple of inches with a supportive pillow will ensure your neck muscles are not scrunched up during the night.
Sleeping on your side is generally considered the best position for snore prevention. But of course not everyone can change their sleep position overnight. For snorers who really like to sleep on their back or stomach, we recommend you try minor lifestyle changes or replacing your mattress and pillow first. For those who really need to change their position – snorers who are under threat from a sleep-deprived partner for example – a tennis ball stitched into the pocket of a worn-backward t-shirt will provide the necessary ‘prompts’ during a night’s tossing and turning.
There are medical treatments and devices available to help those with extreme snoring or for which lifestyle and sleep environment changes don’t work. From simple mouthpieces to surgical procedures, your doctor can discuss your options should all else fail. Don’t worry -- help is readily available!