Snoring & Sleep Problems

There are numerous reasons why people snore at night, related to their lifestyles, weight, habits, and physical defects in the nose and in the upper airway at the back of the mouth. Often a combination of these factors will lead to snoring, and as such many treatments must be tested to lessen its affect upon the snorer and the snorer’s partner. Snoring is considered funny, embarrassing and unimportant by many, but it is by no means a laughing matter, and must be approached as a serious condition that could worsen if not treated, and which can cause disturbances in relationships, have effects upon waking hours, and lead to more severe habits like sleep apnoea. Although it is impossible to cure snoring or stop it at will, the severity of the habit can be controlled by treatments specific to each person.

Why do we Snore?

Usually snoring is caused by an amalgamation of reasons. It is commonly produced when there is excess tissue, over-relaxant muscles, or blocked airways in the nose and throat of the snorer. Frequent factors include weight and excessive tissue within the throat and fat around the neck, smoking and alcohol both of which cause muscle relaxation during sleep, a blocked nose which produced turbulence when breathing through the mouth, and a retracting tongue which will reduce the size of the airway. More often then not, snoring can be attributed to self-imposed lifestyle conditions which will be targeted by your GP, dentist or ENT surgeon before any direct treatment will be discussed or applied, these will likely have to change or stop altogether if you are to end a snoring habit.

In some cases snoring is the side-effect of an abnormal part of the nose or mouth, for example a weak soft-palate, a large uvula, diverted nasal turbinates or weak tongue muscles, which might need to be overcome by surgery or dental appliances, available after referral by your GP and a sleep study, or Polysomnography. Such treatment is only considered after the snorer has attempted to combat the habit through non-invasive home treatments and remedies. Tests can be conducted in front of the mirror to decipher just which form your snoring takes, and are the first step towards effective diagnosis and treatment.

Many of us will have experienced someone who snores, even if it is ourselves. And many of us will try and deny that we snore! However, snoring can become an issue if it disturbs either yours or your partner/families sleeping. Due to its noisy nature, it can be quite disturbing to anyone who can hear you. Equally, it can lead to you waking up and suffering from disturbed sleep. When snoring becomes disruptive then you may need to begin to try and solve or ease your snoring.

Causes of Snoring

Snoring is caused by vibrations within your airways. These vibrations normally occur in the tissues in the mouth and nose, e.g. the uvula, tonsils and so forth. They create a noise as they become floppy during sleep, particularly REM sleep and therefore can create a kind of blockage for air. However, sometimes other blockages can occur which also contribute towards snoring, and these are sometimes harder to diagnose and treat as they are more internal. For example, obese people may have fatty tissue blocking other areas, and smokers can have blocked areas in their lungs. Whilst these blockages are not as serious as they may sound should they only result in you snoring, there can be long-term complications. The frequent vibrations of the muscles can damage them so that they collapse and prevent breathing even more. Equally, snoring can be a sign of Sleep Apnoea.

In the majority of cases snoring will sound a lot worse than it actually is, up to 40% of Briton’s will admit that they snore quite regularly but only because someone has told them they do. Whilst there are complications that can arise due to snoring, it is not generally a cause for concern. Additionally, if you are concerned about your snoring there is more or less a solution for everyone. There are simple things that can be done to try and prevent it, and with a differing sleeping pattern, you, or should I say, your partner, will be on the road to a less noisy night of sleep!

Symptoms of Snoring

Whilst there is one blaringly obvious symptom for snorers, there are other features/behaviours that some snorers will have and if you have any of the following then you may need to change your sleeping pattern.

Physical features that can cause snoring:

  • If you are overweight you may find that you are more likely to suffer from snoring. A physical feature of this is the fatty deposits around the neck. Equally, obese people may find internal problems that are not as easy to detect, such as fatty tissues building up around the airways causing dangerous blockages.
  • If you have abnormally large tonsils, uvula or soft palate, these can also contribute to blocking your airways. Your doctor will be able to examine these areas to see if they are causing your snoring.
  • If you have a large build up of any mucus, causing nasal congestion or catarrh then this may also contribute to snoring.
  • If you have small nostrils or collapsing nostrils, they could be the area for concern regarding your snoring. 

Lifestyle features that can cause snoring:

  • If you are a smoker, you are more likely to notice an increased build up of tissues in the airways, and even catarrh. The smoke you inhale can irritate the lining of your airways and cause them to swell which will constrict your breathing, even if you are only a passive smoker.
  • Drinking alcohol before you sleep can worsen snoring as the muscles can become more relaxed and cause more constriction of your airways. Alcohol is also thought to contribute towards obstructive sleep apnoea in those who start out as habitual snorers. This in itself is quite a serious condition.
  • If you suffer from an allergy this may increase your chances of snoring due to the mucus build up that the allergy may cause. People who suffer from hay fever may find they are more likely to snore during the summer season.
  • Even something as simple as a cold can increase your chances of snoring. The increased chances of getting a blocked nose mean more chance of you breathing through your mouth and thus snoring.
  • A lack of exercise can contribute towards snoring due to the allowance of fatty tissues to build up. Even by being overweight by a few kilograms can increase your chances of snoring as any fatty tissue build up will add more pressure to your airway system.

How to Stop Snoring

Reducing your snoring is a lot easier than you may think and adopting a few lifestyle changes may be just what you need. Do not be frustrated should your first attempt not work, there are many different help guides and solutions available and only some of them will be beneficial for you. Below are some simple things you could try, to stop snoring:

  • Sleeping on your back is not encouraged when it comes to snoring. This is due to the gravity that can take even further hold on the muscles that are already relaxed and contributing towards your snoring. There are head positioning pillows available that can keep you lying on your side rather than your back. Equally an old, home-made solution is to sew tennis balls in the back of your pyjamas! This will then prevent you from rolling onto your back.
  • Try to maintain a healthy exercise routine, this will reduce the chances of fatty deposits building up.
  • Avoid alcohol a few hours before you go to bed.
  • Do not raise your head with many pillows, try to use as few as possible. If your head is raised by too many pillows then you may find that your airways become restricted.
  • Raise the bed head, tilting your body can ease the airways. Be sure to maintain a flat position and do not raise your head with pillows.

Should simple things like this not reduce your snoring, then you could try over-the-counter remedies such as nasal strips, oral sprays and so on. If even these do not work then you should seek medical advice about the variety of treatments available for snoring.

Effects upon your life and your health

While considered by some as amusing and humorous, the reality of snoring is very different. Snoring can interrupt sleep for both the snorer and the bed partner, such consistent discomfort during sleep can evolve to produce excessive tiredness and a loss of concentration during waking hours. This can come to manifest itself through stress, irritability, anxiety and restlessness, and can have a lasting impact upon your work, your relationships and just as importantly your health.

Rest and sleep are paramount to ensure the health of the body, and is used to recuperate both the muscles, bones and organs, as well as the immune system, to ward off illness and disease. Snoring then can interrupt and reduce the positive impact of sleep upon the body, making it more likely for us to fall ill and take longer for us to heal.

Stress and snoring can often be seen as interrelated, as snoring will affect the sleeping pattern of the individual, reducing the amount of rest and adding to the level of stress. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle, as the sufferer becomes more stressed, they sleep less and vice versa, and is something which can only be broken by combating the two problems simultaneously.

Relationships too can be adversely affected by a snoring habit, and can cause needless and avoidable arguments with your bed partner. While at first snoring can seem little more than an annoyance that you can laugh off, its lasting impact is unavoidable, just as much to the person beside of you, as to yourself. It may not seem fair to your bed partner that your habit keeps them awake, and not you, which can lead to disagreements and one of you leaving the bed during the night. It is vital to recognise the important side effects of snoring and to control the habit, discussing options with your partner and solving the problem together.

Treatments to try at home

Treatments rely completely upon the nature of your snoring habit, which must be assessed by carrying out a self-examination to uncover the source of the problem, be it nasal, tongue or mouth.

The most common form of snoring occurs when the mouth is open during sleep, caused often by a blocked nose. This is a side-effect of allergies or inflammation in the nasal passageway and must be treated with nasal decongestants, like sprays. Of course these are only ever temporary fixes to a problem which may return during the summer or when you are next ill. For those with chronic allergies or congested passageways surgery can be another option. Some herbal or aromatherapy remedies work on the same principles as more scientific treatments relieve a blocked nose or congested airways to allow you to breath clearly through your nose and avoid turbulence in your mouth and throat.

Sleeping positions are another perpetrator that allow the mouth to open during sleep, and in turn cause snoring. There are traditional and modern forms of treatment for this problem, including tying a tennis ball to your back, lying bricks or books under the head of your mattress, to sleep assisting, chiropractic and hypoallergenic pillows.

Dental Treatments for Snoring

Often snoring is caused by the relaxation of muscles in the back of throat or the tongue. This form of snoring can be lessened in some cases by the use of a dental appliance like a Mandibular Advancement Appliance, which will alter the shape of the jaw, moving it forward during sleep to open the airway at the back of the throat. Other such devices move the tongue and hold the soft-palate in place, and keep them out of the way during sleep to counteract turbulence.

Surgical treatments for Snoring

Surgery is offered as a last resort, and is considered only after an ENT surgeon has conduced a sleep study and diagnosed the cause of your snoring habit. Depending upon the type of condition you suffer, you surgery can require laser cutting, electrocautery, palatal stiffening, or nasal centred work, all with their own side effects and relatively levels of invasiveness. Your surgeon will talk through these side effects and the choices you have.

Begin treatment for snoring now

Snoring is often, though not always, a sign of sleep apnoea. This means that during sleep your breathing will stop and start due to the collapsing of muscles in the upper airway and throat, and can lead to low blood oxygen levels and sleep deprivation. It is important to control your snoring habit for the sake of your own, and your partner’s health, and to ensure it has no lasting impact upon your daily lives, relationships, or work. 

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