Definition of Snoring
Snoring is the sound made when airways are partially obstructed during sleep. The vibration of the uvula and soft palate is what causes the sound, which can be soft and barely noticeable, to loud and extremely annoying for others sleeping in close proximity.
Research into snoring shows it can sometimes be the first indication of another underlying sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Causes of Snoring
There are numerous causes of snoring, and it’s believed people who snore often have more than one underlying cause. Some of them are situational and can be temporary, while others are much longer lasting and could be considered permanent.
Obesity and Being Overweight
It’s thought the leading cause of snoring is being overweight or obese. While subcutaneous fat (the fat cells immediately below the skin) makes the neck visibly wider and double chins more prominent, adipose fat (internal fat cells) spread inwardly, affecting the major organs and pressing against the throat when it appears in the neck. Fatty tissue gathering around the neck, throat and windpipe can obstruct the airway, making it far more likely a person will snore.
This is especially pronounced for those who sleep on their back, with snoring becoming louder as the person struggles to intake enough air during sleep. Unfortunately, excess fatty tissue in the throat and neck will also complicate normal everyday breathing even when awake.
Weak Throat Muscles
As a result of being overweight, many people tend to lose muscle tone across the entire body. This includes the muscles around the throat and neck. Weakened throat muscles cause the tissue around the uvula, tonsils and upper throat to flop and sag. This contributes to the vibrations that cause snoring.
A person suffering with allergies may experience symptoms that include increased mucus production and irritation of the nose and throat. A blocked nose increases the chance of a person breathing through the mouth while asleep, while the irritation of the nose and throat can cause the vibrations that cause snoring.
With some inhaled allergens, some people experience symptoms that include shortness of breath, and narrowing of the airways. These things can lead to a person snoring only while allergic symptoms are present.
Allergic responses to things like insect bites, some antibiotics or food allergies may cause an anaphylactic response, resulting in inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system.
Snoring due to allergies can be considered temporary in some people. In others, an existing snoring condition may be made far worse than it normally would be.
Research has shown that stress levels can play a part in the amount people snore at night. High stress levels can cause muscle tension around the neck and jaw, which are known to contribute to narrowing of the airways that, in turn, lead to snoring.
High stress levels are also known to lead the brain to releasing cortisol into the blood stream. This has serious affects on the peripheral nervous system, as well as the central nervous system, causing the brain to remain more active than it should during the sleep phase.
Dehydration is a deficiency in water intake required for optimal health. Recent studies show that a dehydrated person is far more likely to snore, as the effect on the respiratory system is pronounced as water intake decreases. The nasal passages become more sensitive in a dehydrated person, which increases the likelihood of breathing through the mouth.
As more people tend to drink coffee, sodas containing high sodium levels, and other diuretics, this leads to a natural deficiency in plain water.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly recognized form of sleep apnea. This condition is caused by blockage or obstruction to the upper airway, making the sleeping person stop breathing for between 15 and 40 seconds at a time.
As the airways are already obstructed, the body reflexively tries to inhale more oxygen after a long pause in breathing. However, due to the blocked or narrowed airways, the tissues around the throat vibrate, causing loud snoring.
Physical Problems and Illness
A high percentage of people have a deviated septum, which can be the cause of their snoring. The septum is the little piece of cartilage that runs in between the nostrils. This is most commonly caused by an injury, such as a blow to the face, but can sometimes be caused by compression of the face during birth.
When the septum is deviated to one side or the other, it can narrow the airway, making it difficult to breathe. This increases the risk of infection within the sinus on the side with the smaller nostril and increase irritation or inflammation.
Colds and flu are also common causes of temporary snoring. As the nose and sinuses become blocked and inflamed, breathing through the mouth increases, resulting in snoring. If the person has a sore throat or irritation within the throat, the sound of snoring may become even louder.
Alcohol is a known relaxant. After two or three drinks, the human body and nervous system will begin to relax. As a person attempts to sleep in this hyper-relaxed state, the throat muscles relax slightly more than usual, causing snoring.
Alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which is known to cause people to snore.
Alcohol is also known to affect the respiratory system, changing the breathing patterns in some people. For most, breathing and respiratory rate will slow further than normal. Studies show that intoxicated people have a much higher incidence of developing temporary sleep apnea within the first hour or two of sleep. For those people already diagnosed with sleep apnea, this can be a potentially lethal combination.
Even people who don’t normally snore can become snorers after a couple of drinks.
Smoking cigarettes can irritate and inflame the nasal passages, throat and airways, leading to heavy, sleep-disturbing snoring. Recent studies show that even those people who have quit smoking still have a tendency to snore, simply due to the long-term damage caused to the upper airways and respiratory system while they were smoking.
The same research also showed that 20% of passive smokers (those non-smokers living with or near a heavy smoker) also have an increased risk of snoring.
Sleeping on the back, face up, is known to increase snoring. This is because the tongue is more likely to drop back down into the throat, narrowing the airways and causing vibration of the tissue in the throat.
When some people experience periods of stress, they tend to grind their teeth or clench their teeth together tightly during sleep. This is commonly known as bruxism. This causes tension around the muscles in the neck and jaw, which can lead to headaches. However, if there is a misalignment of the jaw, this activity can worsen snoring.
Health Effects of Snoring
People who snore are often the brunt of many jokes. However, those who live with a heavy snorer know all about interrupted sleep patterns. What most people don’t realize is that there can also be some quite serious health effects associated with chronic or excessive snoring. Surprisingly, research has shown that in some people, snoring can kill you.
Here are some of the more serious dangers of snoring:
Sleep deprivation is perhaps one of the more common effects of snoring, for both the snorer and the people around them. Broken sleep patterns can lead to waking up feeling drowsy or irritable, even after the person thinks he or she has been asleep for 7 or 8 hours.
Sleep deprivation can have serious effects on concentration levels, and can adversely affect the brain so it impairs cognitive functions. People who regularly experience sleep deprivation have a higher incidence of depression, headaches, memory lapses, weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Heart Disease and Heart Attack
People suffering with severe snoring problems have a greatly increased risk of developing heart disease or experiencing a heart attack. Studies show snorers have a 34% increased risk of heart attack.
Atherosclerosis, or Ateriosclerotic Vascular Disease, is when the walls of the arteries begin to thicken. This is a type of inflammation that can be caused by irritation. This amount of inflammation within the artery walls causes fatty substances, such as cholesterol, to become clogged within the narrowed arteries.
As snoring creates a kind of turbulence in the blood flow through the arteries near to the airways, this irritates blood cells. When those cells become irritated, it can contribute to the arterial walls becoming inflamed, leading to atherosclerosis, which can cause heart attacks and cardiac stress.
Chronic snorers face a 67% risk of having a stroke. The combination of snoring and sleep apnea can reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain.
Research shows that almost 40% of strokes occur during sleep, or within one hour after waking up.
Multiple studies have shown a link between sleep deprivation and increased risk of stroke. As chronic snoring is known to interfere with normal sleeping patterns, this may be a major contributor to stroke symptoms. When the added risk of snoring and sleep apnea is included in the studies, the risk factor increases greatly, as the blood oxygenation levels are reduced.
Snoring Facts and Statistics
It’s believed almost all people will snore at some point in their lives. Temporary illness, congestion, increased mucus production, or just a night with a little too much alcohol can bring on snoring.
However, more than 66% of all adults snore habitually.
Snoring grows more pronounced with age. Only 5.6% of children under 12 are regular snorers. Yet, by the age of 30, this number rises to 30%. By the age of 50, the number increases again to 40% of people who will snore habitually.
Of the number of people with a severe snoring problem, it’s believed that males outnumber female snorers by 2:1. The number of women who snore rises dramatically after menopause.
Sleep apnea may also be present in approximately 36% of adults who snore. Yet, sleep apnea affects approximately 3.5% of children under 10 who snore.
Snoring Cures, Treatments and Solutions
The medical industry and sleep research clinics have released an array of snoring products and devices designed to help reduce how much a person snores.
Surgical Procedures for Snoring
There are several surgical procedures that may be considered to reduce snoring. Surgeons can remove some of the excess tissue in the back of the throat in an effort to broaden the airway. Other surgical operations can include rectifying a deviated septum to increase breathing capacity in a blocked nostril.
Removing infected adenoids or tonsils is also thought to help reduce snoring in some people.
The Pillar Procedure is also a popular surgical option for snoring. This is where three tiny strips of Dacron are placed into the soft palate at the back of the throat. This helps to reduce the vibration in the soft tissue that causes snoring, but also helps to widen the airways to treat sleep apnea.
Laser snoring treatment and radiofrequency treatment are also surgery options. In these cases, the soft tissue at the back of the throat is deliberately scarred. When the scarred tissue heals, it becomes slightly harder and stiffer, reducing the amount of vibration that causes snoring.
Prescription Medications for Snoring
Some doctors may prescribe pseudoephedrine in an effort to stop snoring. This medication is a stimulant well-known to reduce swelling inside the nostrils and back of throat where the mucus membranes are.
Xanax and Zoloft may also be prescribed. These are commonly used to treat depression.
Natural Snoring Remedies
Surgery is quite invasive and can be expensive. Prescription medications carry a risk of harmful side effects. This leads many people to try and seek more natural home remedies to stop snoring.
As snoring stems from narrowed airways and vibrations in soft tissue, dental devices such as snoring mouthpieces or mouth guards can be very helpful. These serve to bring the lower jaw further forward during sleep, opening the airway and bringing the tongue further forward.
Stop Snoring Exercises
The combination of well-trained breathing techniques, strong throat muscles, and strong jaw and neck muscles serves to almost completely stop snoring.
It stands to reason that learning some simple exercises designed to strengthen these muscles can go a long way towards reducing snoring.
Altered Sleeping Position
It’s well-known that people who sleep on the back with their face up are far more likely to snore. Snoring becomes worse if that person sleeps with two pillows beneath the head. This tilts the head down towards the chest, and narrows the throat and airways.
Sleeping on the side and only using a pillow that doesn’t stretch or compress the neck can help to stop snoring and improve breathing during sleep.
Overall Physical Health
Smoking, drinking alcohol, and being overweight are all contributing factors for the amount people snore. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake can reduce the severity of symptoms.
However, increased physical activity can help to reduce weight, improve overall muscle tone and remove some of the excess fatty tissue that may accumulate around the neck and chest.
Herbal Snoring Sprays
Herbal snoring sprays are available over the counter and contain only natural ingredients. These are thought to be somewhat effective in helping people to stop snoring.