Millions of people snore, but except for keeping someone else awake at night, is snoring a problem? It may or may not be. For some, snoring may only be additional noise. But if the snoring is chronic and loud—some snores can exceed 90 decibels, the government limit for noise in the workplace—the snoring may signal obstructive sleep apnea, a serious medical condition.
Anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of Americans snore at least occasionally. It is largely adult men who snore, but children between the ages of 3 and 13 can snore when they have large tonsils and adenoids, or when they have a bad cold. As they mature, most will stop snoring.
Men typically start to snore in their late 30s and 40s, and the snoring intensifies after the age of 50. Among older people there may actually be more snorers than nonsnorers. People who are overweight are also more likely to snore.
Symptoms of Snoring
- Guttural intermittent noise when breathing during sleep
- Episodes of stopped breathing
- Daytime fatigue
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring occurs mostly during periods of deep sleep and is caused by the rattling of the walls of the upper air passages, which can happen when nasal passages dry out (such as when you sleep in an overheated room) or when you sleep on your back. A nightcap before bed can also bring on snoring by relaxing muscles in the throat.
In some cases a medical condition is responsible. Nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and a deviated septum can all cause snoring, as can the congestion brought on by a bad cold. Obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, aging and medications are other causes of snoring.
What If You Do Nothing?
In most cases habitual snoring doesn’t disappear on its own. If you have a bedmate who can tolerate it, and if you are getting a good night’s sleep, then there is no need to correct it. However, if loud snoring or aborted breathing is part of your snoring pattern, and if you find that you are drowsy during the day, you may have sleep apnea, which requires treatment.
Home Remedies for Snoring
If snoring annoys your bedmate, try these techniques to stop it.
- 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 nonsnorer to snore.
- Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime. Most of these medications suppress throat-muscle tone, just like alcohol, and can cause snoring.
- Lose weight if you are obese. No one is certain why weight gain causes snoring. It 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 positions are the stomach and the side. However, for heavy snorers, sleep position has no effect; they will snore in all positions.
- Try the tennis ball treatment. Tape a tennis ball to the back of your pajamas. (A rolled-up pair of socks will also do the trick.) Every time you roll over on your back, you’ll become uncomfortable and will roll back on your side.
- Tilt the head of your bed upward. Place telephone books or bricks under the head of the bed. This may help relieve chronic snoring.
- Seek treatment for problems that cause nasal obstruction. Congestion due to allergies and colds causes air passages to narrow, making air flow more turbulent, which causes the throat tissues to vibrate. Contact an allergy specialist for testing and treatment. If you have nasal congestion due to a cold, use a decongestant.
- Freshen bedroom air. When the room is hot and dry, nasal passages become clogged during sleep, and this often leads to snoring. Keep your 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.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule.
- Exercise regularly.
Antisnoring devices have become a growth industry. Nasal dilators, over-the-counter jaw retainers and mouthpieces, and even herbal pills, contoured pillows, and nasal sprays are being touted as cures. Which of these works? Who knows? For sure, forget the pills, pillows, and sprays. As for the nasal dilators, some of them may help if your snoring is due to certain types of nasal obstruction. Just don’t invest a lot of money in any device.
It sounds silly, but Breathe Right, a small adhesive strip placed across your nose at night, may help you snore less. Available in drug, grocery, and discount stores, it has a springlike action that pulls the nostrils open slightly, thereby reducing resistance in the nasal airways. Certainly it won’t help all snorers—and there’s no evidence it will relieve sleep apnea—but it may help those whose snoring is due to some types of nasal obstruction, which can encourage breathing through the mouth during sleep.
See the home remedies listed above.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
If you are told that you snore loudly and that your snoring is punctuated by quiet intervals of a few seconds to two minutes, followed again by a snort and loud snoring, contact your physician. You may have sleep apnea. Also contact your doctor if the self-help measures fail to stop you from snoring and if the snoring is regularly interfering with the sleep of a bed partner.
What Your Doctor Will Do
After a complete physical exam to rule out a physical obstruction, your physician may recommend a sleep study, especially if sleep apnea is suspected. Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, may be recommended for chronic snoring or if sleep apnea is diagnosed. Corrective surgery may be an option in some extreme cases. As with all surgical procedures, get a second opinion.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media