Not only is snoring an irritant for your partner, it is also an indication of serious health issues. That a minor irritant like snoring can cause heart diseases and death should be a cause of concern for the more than 90 million American adults who have a snoring problem.
Why Do People Snore?
We snore because the air we breathe flaps the muscles of the throat causing them to vibrate and create the characteristic sound of snoring. When we sleep, our entire body gets into a state of relaxation. Our throat muscles also relax making the air passageway narrow. When we breathe these narrow walls vibrate, leading to snoring. The narrower the throat, the greater is the vibration and louder the snore.
Alcohol, certain medications (tranquilizers like lorazepam, diazepam) and smoking can increase muscle relaxation and cause snoring.
Some people who suffer from allergies may have obstructed nasal airways. Nasal airway obstruction is also seen in people with a structural deformity in the septum (the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or in those who have nasal polyps (non-cancerous growths lining the nasal passage). Snoring is commonly seen in such individuals.
Snoring is also often observed in people who have a long, soft palate and an oversized uvula (the dangling “U” shaped tissue on the back of the mouth), which can also cause obstruction of the throat. Children with large tonsils and adenoid tissue also snore.
Snoring affects individuals of all ages, both men and women. Overweight males are more at risk and the problem worsens with age.
Health Risks of Snoring
The immediate effects of snoring are unsound sleep for the snorer as well as their partner. Bad sleep can affect your daily life. You end up feeling tired, sleepy and possibly crabby through the day, thanks to a disturbed sleep the previous night.
A more severe and potentially life-threatening condition that affects more than half of the snorers is obstructive sleep apnea. Here, the throat muscles become weak or relax way too much (and that can come from several reasons), and block the airway. This results in the person being unable to breathe. Such breathing pauses could occur around 30 times in an hour. Often, you wake up with a jolt, leading to a break in the sleep.
Sleep apnea cannot be diagnosed and even the sufferer might not be aware of this condition. It is almost always that the partner notices the symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea increases the risks of a large number of health problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity, stroke, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and diabetes.
One study found that snoring is an independent risk factor in the thickening and abnormalities in the carotid artery (the vessel that supplies blood to the head and neck), which could lead to atherosclerosis (partial blockage of the artery), and eventually, cardiovascular diseases. This was seen in patients who weren’t obese and who did not show symptoms of sleep apnea.
A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that regular snorers were twice as likely to develop a risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes compared to non-snorers.. How does this happen? When you snore, the airway gets restricted or narrowed and lesser oxygen gets into your system. When you’re deprived of oxygen, your body begins to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol and stress push up your insulin resistance, increasing the probability of Type 2 Diabetes.
Another study found that snoring was a major risk factor in all-cause mortality (death caused by any reason). It also leads to a condition called nocturnal asthma and can trigger an asthmatic attack in the middle of the night.
Snoring was also linked to increased risk of developing neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Sleep quality affects cognitive functions and poor sleep can cause deposition of β-amyloid plaques in the brain. This deposition is strongly associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Stop Snoring?
There are countless devices and therapeutic kits available, all claiming to cure your snoring habit. We suggest that you use easy, natural methods first to rid yourself of your problem before spending hard-earned cash on fancy devices. You can use a combination of lifestyle and bedtime strategies to overcome your snoring. Here’s how you can stop snoring naturally.
Among the lifestyle changes that are sure to benefit you are:
- Giving up smoking. Smoking irritates the airway and causes muscles to become lax, thereby creating or worsening your snoring problem.
- Avoiding alcohol and sedatives. Consuming alcohol right before bedtime can worsen your snoring as alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant. Also, sedatives put you in a state of deep sleep and can also make you snore.
- Losing weight. We’ve seen the connection between obesity and snoring. Losing weight reduces the fatty deposits at the back of your mouth. This prevents blocking of airways and hence reduces snoring.
- Exercising. When you exercise, you are toning your muscles. During exercising, throat muscles are also indirectly toned. Well-toned throat muscles will not relax as much and will not cause snoring. You can also try specific exercises to strengthen your throat muscles to control the snores.
Here Are Some Easy Bedtime Routines You Could Adopt to Prevent Snoring
- Clear nasal passages. If you have a congested nose, it can make you snore pretty badly. Using nasal irrigation techniques (Neti pot, saline wash) can clear your sinuses and clear your nostrils. You may also use decongestant sprays for severe decongestions, especially if you have a cold or during allergy season. (Do remember thought that regular use of nasal decongestants should be avoided as it may make your nasal passages dry and irritable. It can also make your nasal muscles weak.)
- Keep the bedroom air moist. Dry air in the bedroom tends to irritate your nasal and throat membranes. This leads to their swelling and subsequent blocking of the airway. Using a humidifier solves this problem.
- Use a thicker pillow. By elevating your head around 4-5 inches, you can ease your breathing. This raised position also allows your tongue and jaw to move forward. There is decreased pressure on the throat muscles and that eases snoring.
- Sleep on your side. Sleeping on one side helps decrease pressure on the throat muscles and reduces snoring. To keep you from turning on your back, attach a tennis ball to the back of your nightwear top. This will discourage you from turning over on your back. Once you get used to this side-sleeping position, you can do away with the tennis ball.
- Using nasal strips and snore guards (anti-snoring mouth appliances). A nasal strip helps open your nostrils for breathing to occur effectively. Mouth appliances help reduce snoring by keeping the jaw and tongue forward while sleeping.
These natural strategies will surely help you control your snoring and reduce your risks of health complications. It is possible that you may not be able to address this habit through any of these methods. Under such circumstances, you may require medical intervention. These could be through use of a medical device or a minor surgical intervention.
Snoring is more than a nighttime irritant; it can play havoc with your overall health. Understand the risks of such health conditions and chart out an effective strategy to prevent snoring.