Getting routine, quality sleep is vital to physical and mental health and overall well-being. And it’s not just the total amount or quality of sleep that’s important, it’s that the time asleep isn’t regularly interrupted.
Do you or someone you know snore? Did you know that snoring can interrupt your (and your bed partner’s) sleep and health? Or that it can also be a symptom of a health problem?
And if your sleep is regularly interrupted by someone else’s snoring, it’s well worth your while to figure out how to get some good quality, uninterrupted ZZZs.
While the sound of snoring can be difficult to put into words, you know it when you hear it. According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 90 million American adults cope with at least a periodic snoring problem, and about 37 million or more snore regularly.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to memory loss, dementia, depression, anxiety, irritability, impaired creativity, trouble concentrating, weight gain (which is accompanied by a number of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis) as well as an increased risk of accidental injuries and premature death.
Solutions to snoring depends upon the cause — including:
- Colds and the flu can result in nasal tissue swelling
- Being overweight can cause extra fatty tissue to accumulate along your breathing passages
- Drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking sleeping pills and sedatives can relax airway muscles, making them more likely to vibrate when breathing
- With normal aging comes the narrowing and relaxation of the throat muscles
- Nasal deviation and sinus problems can also narrow breathing passages
- Sleeping flat on your back can cause the tongue or other fleshy structures to relax
- Some people are just built with long uvulas (the funny looking dangly thing in the back of your throats), large tongues, or narrow throats
- Being dehydrated contributes to mucus thickening
Snoring is Not the Same as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
While OSA will almost always lead to loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always indicate OSA. OSA means that breathing has stopped temporarily due to complete obstruction and there is no movement of air. Oxygen levels drop, resulting in the release of epinephrine, a stress hormone. This causes you to wake-up and is often accompanied by a loud snort or gasping sound.
Along with loud snoring, OSA signs/symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep, abrupt awakening accompanied by gasping or choking, awakening with a dry mouth, or a morning headache. Noteworthy is that not everyone with OSA demonstrates loud snoring.
Over time, this repeated sleep interference combined with chronic drops in oxygen levels and elevated epinephrine, can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and the development of abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation.
Lifestyle behavioral changes can be a good first step, including:
- Losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol at night and heavy meals or snacks (for at least three hours before sleep)
- Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime
- Establish good sleeping hygiene (including shutting down and setting your environment to sleep at a regular nightly time for optimum sleep)
- Perform tongue and throat strengthening exercises–there are a number of easy-to-do exercises you can find online
- Clear nasal passages by humidifying the room, utilizing nasal sprays or Neti pots,
- Stay hydrated but don’t drink large quantities of fluids too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated beverages later in the day which contributes to wakefulness
- Treat chronic allergies. Consider a HEPA filtration system which can clean allergens out of the home air
- Sleep on your side, instead of your back
- Find the “perfect” pillow that allows your head to align with your neck
If you routinely snore and have tried lifestyle changes but are experiencing signs or symptoms of excessive daytime drowsiness or pauses in breathing during sleep, it’s time to talk with your healthcare provider. Remember, chronic sleep deprivation and drops in oxygen levels can lead to dangerous and deadly consequences.
And if your mate’s snoring is disrupting your sleep, tell them their snoring is a problem for you. Support their lifestyle changes and, too, there are temporary considerations from ear plugs to white noise machines to provisionally sleeping in another room to researching other online resources.
Good news is that there’s much that can be done with proper diagnosis and treatment! Snoring solutions not only eliminate the problem of snoring, but also help facilitate a quality night’s sleep.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.