Snoring is very common and while it isn’t usually a cause for concern, it can cause embarrassment and disrupt sleep patterns. Here’s what you need to know about snoring, what causes it and how it can be treated.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is caused by vibration of the soft palette and tissue in the mouth, nose or throat, which occurs as the lungs try to inhale oxygen through obstructed airways. The vibration results in a snorting or rattling noise as you breathe during sleep. The noise and frequency varies from person to person.
Some people snore quietly and infrequently, while others snore loudly every night. Healthcare professionals have a grading system they use to assess the severity of a person’s snoring, which includes three grades – grade one being the mildest form and grade three being the most severe.
There are some health and lifestyle factors which have been found to increase your risk of snoring. Obesity is one of them, particularly if you have a large amount of fat around your neck. Drinking alcohol or taking sedatives can cause snoring, as both relax your muscles when you sleep, narrowing your airways. Smoking may also increase your risk as it can cause your airways to become inflamed.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Most of the time, snoring is harmless and you won’t require medical help. However, you may want to see your GP is your snoring is so severe that it prevents you or your partner from getting enough sleep.
If snoring disrupts your sleep, it can lead to excessive tiredness in the day which can be dangerous, increasing your risk of accidents. It will also generally affect your home and work life, as it will most likely make you more irritable and unable to concentrate.
Snoring can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, so look out for signs that it may be linked to something more serious. See your GP if you wake up gasping and choking during the night, as this may be a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnoea – a condition where a person’s airways repeatedly become partially or totally blocked for about 10 seconds throughout the night.
What are the Treatment Options?
It’s sometimes possible to treat snoring by making simple lifestyle changes. You should start by trying the following:
- Sleep on your side rather than on your back.
- Exercise regularly to strengthen the neck muscles – this can help prevent the airways narrowing.
- Don’t drink alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
- Avoid taking sedatives and antihistamines close to bedtime.
- If you’re overweight, try to lose some excess pounds.
- If you’re a smoker, try to quit the habit.
- If the air in your home is very dry, you might find it helpful to use a humidifier.
- Talk to your GP about any medications you’re taking – these may be contributing to the problem.
If making these changes to your lifestyle has no effect, something as simple as ear plugs may help you and your partner to sleep through the snores. There are also some anti-snoring devices you may want to try, including:
- Nasal strips or nasal dilators, which help to reduce narrowing of the nostrils during sleep
- Oral devices, such as chin strips which stop your mouth from falling open during sleep, or a vestibular shield which is similar to a gum shield and forces you to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth
- A mandibular advancement device (MAD), which is used when your snoring is caused by vibration of the tongue, as it pushes your jaw and tongue forward, reducing the narrowing of your airway that’s causing your tongue to vibrate
In some extreme cases, surgery is used to correct snoring. However, this form of treatment is not suitable for most people. It’s only available on the NHS if there’s evidence that snoring is having a serious adverse effect on your health or quality of life, and every other recommended treatment has been tried without success.
If snoring is becoming a regular problem for you, there are lots of things you can do to try and minimise its impact on your day to day life. Your GP will be able to give you advice about what lifestyle changes or treatment options are most likely to be effective for you.
Finally, if your snoring causes you to lose sleep, you may like to read our article on how to counteract sleep deprivation:
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