Millions of Americans snore in their sleep, and although snoring can be a nuisance to the perpetrator or anyone else in earshot, it’s often a benign behavior. Sometimes though, snoring can signal more serious health problems. If you or your partner snore, read on to learn more about this widespread habit and what it could mean.
Fact: Snoring is caused by a constricted airway.
During sleep your throat muscles relax, causing your airway to narrow. As you breathe in and out, that relaxed tissue may start to vibrate, resulting in a harsh snoring sound. The more constricted the airway, the louder the snoring will be. Because sleeping on your back can cause relaxed tissue to “collapse” further toward the back of your throat, if you snore it may be preferable to sleep on your side.
Fact: Aging, anatomy, allergies, and alcohol play a role.
Throat muscles naturally relax as people get older, meaning snoring is more common later in life. Anatomical issues are also a factor: Enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum can narrow the throat, as can inflammation of the nose or throat during allergy season. Since alcohol is a powerful muscle relaxant, drinking before bed may further exacerbate snoring.
Fact: It’s more common than you think.
As much as half of the population snores at some point during their lives. Snoring is more common in men: About 40 percent of them are habitual snorers compared to 24 percent of women. If one of your parents snores, you are more likely to do the same, as there is a genetic component to the behavior.
Fact: Certain lifestyle changes may prevent or minimize snoring.
For occasional snoring, small lifestyle modifications could help. Sleep on your side, skip the nightly glass of wine, and focus on maintaining a healthy weight since carrying extra pounds can thicken the tissues in your throat and narrow the airway even more. During allergy season, sleeping with a nasal strip or using decongestants can relieve allergy or cold-related inflammation and make breathing easier.
Other treatment options include oropharyngeal exercises, a form of functional therapy for your tongue and mouth to reduce snoring, and over-the-counter devices that help keep your airway open.
Fact: Snoring may indicate a medical condition.
If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter treatments don’t help, or if you find yourself startled awake at night by your disrupted breathing, talk to your doctor about your condition. Based on your doctor’s assessment, he or she may recommend a test for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing slows or momentarily stops. Should sleep apnea be diagnosed, there are multiple strategies - including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, surgery, oral devices, among others - to consider to ensure that your airway stays open during sleep.