Snoring is one of the most common forms of sleep-disrupted breathing, a group of sleep disorders characterised by difficulty with respiration during sleep. Estimates indicate that snoring affects 40% of the UK population.
What makes us snore?
Snoring occurs when the muscles of the throat relax during sleep, causing the airway to become narrower. Air flowing in and out of the body causes vibrations against the tissues of the airway – and when the airway is narrowed, these vibrations create the sound of snoring. Snoring can be constant or intermittent, it can be loud or more subdued, and it can include sounds of snorting and gasping and wheezing. Snoring can sound very different among individuals. But everyone who snores risks having their sleep compromised and risks disrupting the sleep of their bed partners
Who is at risk?
The likelihood of snoring can depend on several factors. The risk of snoring increases with age. The prevalence of snoring is higher among men than women, but common among both. Being overweight can make you more likely to snore – fat around the neck puts additional pressure on the airway during sleep, and too much weight carried in the torso is also associated with greater risk for this and other forms of sleep-disrupted breathing. Alcohol consumption can contribute to an exaggerated relaxation of the throat muscles during sleep, making snoring more likely. For the best night’s sleep, it is a good idea to avoid drinking within four hours of bedtime. Smoking can irritate and inflame throat tissue and it also can cause congestion, all of which makes snoring more likely. Even eating too heavily too close to bedtime can trigger snoring.
Disruptive to sleep cycles
Snoring can be highly disruptive too sleep. The sound of your own snoring may wake you from sleep. Even if you’re not aware of your snoring, it can still cause restless and fragmented sleep and disrupt healthy sleep architecture – the natural progression of sleep through different stages throughout the night. In some cases, snoring is an indication of the presence of another form of sleep-disrupted breathing: sleep apnea. Roughly half of regular snorers have sleep apnea. Particularly when snoring is loud, it may be a symptom of sleep apnea, a condition that can be highly disruptive to sleep and to health.
Takes a toll on relationships
Snoring of any degree can diminish the quality of your sleep, and lead to daytime tiredness and fatigue, as well as difficulty with concentration, focus, and memory. Another hazard of snoring? It can often pose challenges not only to the snorers’ sleep, but also to the sleep of bed partners as well. Many people who sleep with someone who snores can relate to the frustration and difficulty of being kept awake by their partner’s noise – generating breathing. Snoring may result in partners’ being as deprived of sleep as the snorers themselves – and in some cases partners may be even more deprived. The stress and sleep deprivation associated with snoring can cause difficulty and tension in relationships. It may even lead partners to sleep in separate beds. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, a majority of sleepers in relationships want to sleep with their partners. Regular snoring may keep people sleeping apart when they don’t want to be.
Ways to reduce snoring
There are several effective strategies to help relieve snoring – or avoid your risk of developing this form of sleep-disrupted breathing in the first place. Sleeping position frequently plays a role in snoring. People are more likely to snore when sleeping on their backs. Switching to a side sleeping position can help ameliorate snoring. Pillows that elevate the head and support the neck also can be effective in keeping the airway open and breathing quiet during sleep. Mandibular repositioning devices are also frequently used to treat sleep apnea. This type of device is worn in the mouth during sleep, where it moves the jaw into a more forward position, opening up the airway to improve breathing. Research has shown these devices may be effective in treating sleep apnea.
Losing weight, and keeping your weight in a healthy range, will often eliminate or reduce the frequency and severity of snoring. Limiting or eliminating alcohol within four hours of bedtime may also help, as will quitting smoking.
Loud breathing during sleep can be tiresome and tiring for both sleepers and bed partners. Don’t let snoring negatively affect the sleep that goes on in your bedroom.