Several sleep disorders involve breathing problems that occur while an individual is asleep. These problems can include obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, upper-airway resistance syndrome, hypoventilation syndromes, and, of course, snoring.
As with all the disorders listed above, snoring is related to physiological factors that are congenital, appear over a protracted period of time, or occur with a medical condition. Snoring is very common and occurs in approximately one-quarter to one-third of all adults and around 10 percent of all children. This condition also increases with age.
Snoring occurs when the air flowing from the mouth and nose on its way to the lungs is restricted. The noise produced from snoring is the result of tissue vibrating in the back of the throat as air moves across it. The sounds seems as if it may be coming from the nose, mouth or both. While snoring can occur in any stage of sleep, this condition tends to be worse in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.
Anything that is restricting airflow is a possible cause of snoring. For instance, some individuals can simply have very narrow airways. Other people may snore because of large tongues, tonsils, or uvulas (the flap of skin hanging down at the back of the throat). A primary cause of snoring in children is the tonsils. Another cause of restricted airflow that produces snoring is obstructions in the nasal passages (caused by a deviated septum or the growth of nasal polyps).
Many people have experienced snoring while being stricken with colds. A stuffy nose caused by allergies, colds or a foreign object (commonly inserted in the nasal passages by children) can all be the cause of temporary snoring.
Impact on Health
Snoring is, at the very least, disruptive to one's sleep (and the people who may be around the person who is snoring). Some snorers state they have dry mouths or sore throats because of their snoring. If the snorer wakes up refreshed and does not experience fatigue during the day, their snoring may be benign. But for many people, snoring is having a negative impact on their health.
Many researchers believe that snoring is a precursor to the development of obstructive sleep apnea. While it has not been clinically proven at this point, many medical practitioners believe that some 50 percent of the people who snore loudly also have obstructive sleep apnea. Those people who snore have a higher rate of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in many industrialized nations.
Overweight people are also more likely to snore. Weight gain leads to an increase in fatty tissue in the back of the throat, which causes a reduction in the size of the airway. This weight gain is the reason that snoring can develop in women during their pregnancies. Alcohol, smoking and some medications (particularly those medications used for their muscle-relaxing properties) can increase the risk of snoring.
Snoring has a tendency to worsen when the person is sleeping on their back.
For those who are worried about their snoring, the best place to start for a remedy is to consult a sleep specialist. Such consultations are frequently followed by an overnight sleep study to determine whether the snoring is disrupting the sleep and how the snoring occurs.
A number of proven treatments currently exist to alleviate the symptoms of snoring. Some of the more simple ones warrant attention before delving deeper into treatments. These include:
- Those who started snoring after gaining weight should try weight loss.
- Avoid evening alcohol use.
- If medications are being used which decrease muscle tone, see if other drugs can be substituted.
- Ask medical practitioners about nasal sprays if a persistently stuffy nose is a problem. This may keep nasal passages clear all night.
- People who snore while sleeping on their backs will probably benefit by sleeping exclusively on their sides.
Treatments which are more complex can include the use of oral appliances worn to maintain adequate airflow during the night. Such appliances are typically mouth guards or retainers to keep the tongue or the jaw in a forward position than normally is the case while asleep.
Products are also available specifically for snoring and include throat or nasal sprays. Because muscle tone decreases during sleep, these products may be beneficial. The tautness of the airway is maintained by a number of muscles which relax during sleep. This explains why a person who is simply resting does not snore, but immediately begins to snore when he or she falls asleep.
Some of the alternative approaches have no real basis as to whether or not they are truly effective. These treatments include magnets, anti-snoring CDs, and hypnosis.
There are a wide variety of surgical procedures available to decrease or completely remove the tissue restricting a person's airflow. These surgeries include removing the tonsils, nasal surgery to remove polyps or correct deformations, or removal of the uvula or parts of the soft palate. Sleep specialists can give advice as to which procedures may apply in a given case. Many of these operations can be performed by an ear, nose and throat specialists in an outpatient setting.
- Lack, L. et al.(2003). Insomnia : how to sleep easy. Double Bay, N.S.W. : Media 21 Publishing.
- Servan-Schreiber, D. (2006). The Duke encyclopedia of new medicine : conventional and alternative medicine for all ages. London : Rodale.
- Vukovic, L. (2005). Overcoming sleep disorders naturally. Laguna Beach, CA : Basic Health.
- Wilfred, P. (2010). Sleepmanual : how to achieve the perfect night's sleep. London : New Holland.
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