Sleep impacts every aspect of the health and daily life. When a person sleeps well at night, it helps him or her go on throughout the day feeling energized and perform their best. However, a sleeping problem can be harmful to the overall health and well-being of a person.
Snoring is considered one of the most common sleeping problems today. It is often the loud, harsh, and hoarse sounds that happen as a person sleeps. People snore when the flow of air as they breathe in air.
Sometimes, snoring may also signal an underlying serious medical condition. Also, snoring can be a nuisance to the person’s sleeping partner. About 50 percent of people snore at some point in their lives. It is usually more common in males than in females, but some women snore, too. Moreover, it is also seen to run in families.
Approximately 40 percent of adult males and 24 percent of adult females are habitual snorers. It becomes apparent and worse as a person grows old. Snoring has been seen in an estimated 90 million American adults, wherein 37 million snores on a regular basis.
Though snoring is considered a nuisance to both the snorer and his or her partner, it can also mean that there is a medical condition that needs to be addressed.
The main symptom of snoring is characterized by a harsh and loud noise that people make when they are sleeping. Snoring is often linked to a sleep disorder dubbed as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Though not all snorers have OSA if when a person snores and he has any of the following symptoms, he or she might need to see a sleep specialist.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Noise during sleep
- Hard time concentrating
- Morning headaches
- Sore throat
- Gasping or choking at night
- Restless sleep
- Chest pain at night
- Increased blood pressure
- Snoring too loud that it disrupts the sleep of the partner and others
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Frequent need to urinate at night
- Irritability, moodiness, and depression
Many factors can lead to snoring. Snoring occurs when the flow of air through the nose and mouth is obstructed due to the anatomy of the mouth, drinking alcohol, allergies, colds, and weight. These are the factors associated with snoring:
Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat – The tongue and throat muscles can become relaxed and they could collapse into the airway. This happens during deep sleep, after consuming sleeping pills and drinking alcohol. In some cases, older people experience this, too.
Obstructed airways – When the nose is obstructed, it could lead to snoring.
Some individuals snore during allergy seasons or when they have colds or a sinus infection. Also, some people who have nose deformities are prone to snoring.
Bulky throat tissue – Being overweight or obese can lead to having a bulky throat tissue. Children with large adenoids and tonsils are more likely snorers, too.
Long soft palate – When a person has a long soft palate or a long uvula, these can obstruct the opening from the nose to the throat, leading to snoring.
Anatomy of the mouth – For some people, they have a low and thick soft palate that can narrow the airway.
Alcohol consumption – Snoring can also be caused by consuming excessive alcohol before sleeping. Alcohol can relax the throat muscles, leading to snoring.
Nasal problems – When a person has frequent nasal congestion or a deformity in the nasal area, it could lead to snoring.
Lack of sleep – The lack of sleep can lead to throat relaxation, and could cause snoring.
Obstructive sleep apnea – People with OSA are snorers too. Snoring has been tied to OSA, a condition wherein the throat tissues block the airway, causing problems with breathing.
Sleep position – Sleeping on the back could worsen snoring.
This is because the gravity pulls the throat muscles back and narrows the airways.
Some people are at a higher risk of developing this condition because of certain factors, such as:
Being a male – Men are at a heightened risk of snoring or in experiencing sleep apnea than women.
Having a narrow airway – In some individuals, they have large tonsils or a long soft palate, making the airways narrow and making them snore while asleep.
Being obese or overweight – Overweight individuals may have obstructive sleep apnea and are at a heightened risk to snore.
Nasal problems – People with nasal deformities or frequent nasal infections are more likely to develop snoring.
The family history of snoring – Snoring can run in families, particularly those with OSA.
Alcohol drinking – The alcohol can relax the muscles in the throat, making drunk individuals more likely to snore.
People are sleeping at the back – People who sleep at their backs may snore.
Snorers are at risk of developing severe health problems such as obstructive sleep apnea. This condition may lead to many problems like:
- Interrupted breathing lasting about a few seconds to minutes while sleeping
- Light sleeping and waking up not feeling rested
- Frequent waking up from sleep
- Heart problems due to increased blood pressure, enlargement of the heart and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Poor sleep at night that may lead to drowsiness and may hinder the person in driving or performing daily tasks
- Daytime sleepiness
- Hard time concentrating that may affect work and school performances
- Frequent anger, being moody and irritable.
- Increased behavioral problems like learning problems and aggression
- Higher risk of motor vehicle accidents because of inadequate sleep
For many families, snoring can be a big problem, particularly if the one who snores does not sleep alone and has to stay in one room with others. The family members and even the partner may have a problem getting a good night’s sleep. Hence, the family might also be more tired to work and perform well in school.
The doctor should determine if the snoring is a sign of a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. He should refer the patient to a sleep specialist to further conduct tests and assessment.
The doctor will also assess allergies, eating problems, the medicines being taken and whether the patient is drinking alcohol or smoking. He will also conduct a complete physical assessment including the areas in the throat and the nasal passages for any deformities.
Here are the other tests especially if the doctor suspects OSA as an underlying cause of the snoring.
Imaging tests – The doctor will prescribe imaging tests to scan or show the structures of the airways for any deformities and problems. The tests used are the X-ray, computerized tomography scans (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging scans.
Sleep study – One of the methods used by sleep specialists is a sleep study to determine the condition causing snoring and to see if there are other problems during sleep. In this test, the patient needs to stay overnight at a sleep clinic to undergo an analysis of the sleeping habits. Everything will be tested for brain waves, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep stages, blood oxygen levels, and eye or leg movements during sleep.
There are various treatment options for snoring, depending on its underlying cause.
The doctor will first recommend lifestyle changes like staying away from alcohol and smoking, treating nasal congestion, getting enough sleep, avoiding sleeping on the back, and losing weight.
However, if obstructive sleep apnea causes the condition, the doctor may recommend oral appliances, and other devices to treat the condition, including:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – This method is used to open up the airways during sleep. The patient will sleep while wearing a pressurized mask over the nose while sleeping. The mask will then be connected to a pump that forces air into the airway.
Oral appliances – This method involves using dental mouthpieces that helps in positioning the jaw, soft palate and tongue to keep the air passages open. This may have side effects like facial pain or discomfort, jaw pain, salivation and dry mouth.
Traditional surgery – The doctor will conduct a surgical procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) wherein the extra tissues in the throat will be trimmed and tightened.
Palatal implants – This procedure is done through the injection of braided strands of the polyester filament into the soft palate. Also dubbed as the pillar procedure, the palatal implants will decrease the occurrence of snoring.
Laser surgery – This treatment is done wherein the laser is used in the uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (LA-UPPP). In this procedure, the surgeon will use a small laser beam to shorten the soft palate or remove the uvula.
Lifestyle changes to prevent snoring
- Do not drink alcohol within three hours before going to bed.
- For overweight and obese individuals, eat healthily and exercise to reduce excess weight and to maintain a healthy weight.
- Do not use sedatives or antihistamines at bedtime.
- Engage in regular exercise to tone the muscles, especially those in the neck.
- Sleep on the side and not on the back.
- Use a humidifier in the room if it’s too dry.
- For people with allergies, try to eradicate the allergens in the bedroom.