Just about everyone snores occasionally, but if snoring happens frequently it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep and that of your family members and roommates. Snoring can lead to poor sleep and daytime fatigue, irritability, and increased health problems. If your snoring keeps your partner awake, it can also create major relationship problems.
Snoring and family problems
The Sleep Disorders Center at Rush University Medical Center is conducting a scientific sleep study to evaluate how a husband’s sleep apnea impacts the wife’s quality of sleep and the couple’s marital satisfaction.
“This is a frequent problem within marriages that nobody is paying enough attention to,” said Rosalind Cartwright, PhD, founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at Rush. “Couples who struggle with sleep apnea have a high-divorce rate. Can we save marriages by treating sleep apnea? It’s a question we hope to answer.”
The Married Couples Sleep Study is evaluating 10 couples in which the male has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. After completing surveys about sleepiness, marriage satisfaction, and quality of life, the couple spends the night in the sleep lab where technicians determine each partner’s quality and quantity of sleep. Following two weeks of treatment, the diagnostic tests and surveys are repeated.
“Our early results are showing that the wife’s sleep is indeed deprived due to the husband’s noisy nights. This is not a mild problem. The lack of sleep for both partners puts a strain on the marriage and creates a hostile and tense situation,” said Cartwright.
For example, in one couple, the husband’s snoring was arousing the wife out of sleep over eight times an hour. Her sleep efficiency rating, which is the percentage of time she is actually sleeping during the night, was 73 percent. The average person’s sleep efficiency is closer to 90 percent. The wife had tried ear plugs, earphones, and numerous other devices to try to sleep through the snoring. She eventually gave up and chose to sleep alone. “The strain on the marriage was evident. The couple was fighting all the time and the surveys revealed low satisfaction with the marriage, especially when it came to effective communication,” said Cartwright.
The causes of snoring
Not all snoring is the same. In fact, everyone snores for different reasons. When you get to the bottom of why you snore, then you can find the right solutions to a quieter, deeper sleep.
People who snore often have too much throat and nasal tissue, or “floppy” tissue that is more prone to vibrate. The position of your tongue can also get in the way of smooth breathing. Evaluating how and when you snore will help you pinpoint whether the cause of your snoring is within your control or not.
Snoring happens when you can't move air freely through your nose and mouth during sleep. Often caused by the narrowing of your airway, either from poor sleep posture or abnormalities of the soft tissues in your throat. A narrow airway gets in the way of smooth breathing and creates the sound of snoring.
Common causes of snoring are:
* Age. As you reach middle age and beyond, your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases.
* The way you’re built. Men have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore. A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids, and other physical attributes that contribute to snoring are often hereditary.
* Nasal and sinus problems. Blocked airways make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring. Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum (a structural change in the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps can also cause obstruction.
* Being overweight or out of shape. Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone contribute to snoring.
* Alcohol, drugs, and medications. Alcohol intake, drugs, and certain medications can increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.
* Sleep posture. Sleeping flat on your back causes the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway.
Smoking and snoring
Now you may add tobacco smoking to the list of things that can cause snoring. European researchers say past or present smoking is a "major contributor" to the common problem, which affects up to 33% of men and 19% of women.
Karl Franklin, MD, PhD, of the respiratory medicine department at University Hospital in Umeå, Sweden, worked with colleagues on the study. It's one of only a handful addressing tobacco smoke and snoring.
They evaluated questionnaires from more than 15,000 men and women aged 25-54 in Iceland, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The study appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Habitual snoring, defined as loud and disturbing snoring at least three nights per week, affected 24% of smokers, 20% of ex-smokers, and almost 14% of people who had never smoked.
The more people smoked, the more frequently they snored. Even nonsmokers were more likely to snore if they were exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.
And although more men tend to snore, female smokers were slightly more likely to snore than male smokers. Besides smoking and gender, snoring risk factors include obesity and upper airway abnormalities.
There are several explanations about smoking's impact on snoring, say the researchers. One theory says smoking irritates and inflames the upper airways, making snoring more likely. Another suggests that smokers with overnight nicotine withdrawal have more sleep instability, raising the risk of upper airway obstruction.
While snoring per se carries significantly lower level of danger for smokers, than negative impact of tobacco smoking, snorers can be still at risk for additional serious health problems, including obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea creates several problems, including:
* Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway.
* Frequent waking from sleep, even though you may not realize it.
* Light sleeping. People with obstructive sleep apnea sleep lightly to try to keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
* Strain on the heart. Prolonged suffering from obstructive sleep apnea often results in higher blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.
* Poor night's sleep. This leads to drowsiness during the day and can interfere with your quality of life.
There are several lifestyle changes you may strive to improve your sleep and reduce snoring:
* Lose weight. Losing even a little bit of weight can reduce fatty tissue in the back of the throat and decrease or even stop snoring.
* Exercise can also help to stop snoring. Working out to tone your arms, legs, and abs, for example, also leads to toning the muscles in your throat, which in turn can lead to less snoring.
* Quit smoking. If you smoke, your chances of snoring are high. Smoking causes airways to be blocked by irritating the membranes in the nose and throat.
* Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives, especially before bedtime, because they relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing. Talk to your doctor about any prescription medications you’re taking, as some encourage a deeper level of sleep which can make snoring worse.
* Establish regular sleep patterns. Create a bedtime ritual with your partner and stick to it. Hitting the sack in a routine way together can help you sleep better and often minimize snoring.
* Clear nasal passages. Having a stuffy nose makes inhalation difficult and creates a vacuum in your throat, which in turn leads to snoring. You can do it naturally with OTC medicines or try nasal decongestants or nasal strips to help you breathe more easily while sleeping.
* Gargle with a peppermint mouthwash to shrink the lining of your nose and throat. This is especially effective if your snoring is a temporary condition caused by a head cold or an allergy. To mix up the herbal gargle, add one drop of peppermint oil to a glass of cold water. (But only gargle—do not swallow.)
* Reduce bedroom allergens (dust, pet dander, and mold) to alleviate nasal stuffiness by vacuuming floors and drapes. Change sheets and pillowcases often.
* Keep bedroom air moist with a humidifier. Dry air can irritate membranes in the nose and throat. A humidifier or steam vaporizer in the bedroom can keep your air passages moist; just be sure to clean it regularly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Another approach: Just before bedtime, fill a bowl with hot water, drape a towel over your head, bend over the bowl so your nose is roughly 15 centimeters from the water, and breathe deeply through your nose for a few minutes.
* Head reposition. Elevating your head four inches may ease breathing and encourage your tongue and jaw to move forward. There are specially designed pillows available to help prevent snoring by making sure your neck muscles are not crimped.
* Avoid caffeine and heavy meals within two hours of going to bed, especially dairy products and soymilk.
* While physical exercise is considered as one of the best remedies for many conditions, including snoring, it is not recommended to practice exercise or extreme physical activities within two hours of bedtime. Exercising five or six hours before bedtime may help you sleep more soundly.
* Sleep on your side. Avoid sleeping on your back, as gravity makes it more likely for your tongue and soft tissues to drop and obstruct your airway.
Throat exercises to stop snoring
Practiced for 30 minutes a day, throat exercises can be an effective way to reduce or stop snoring. Repeatedly pronouncing certain vowel sounds and curling the tongue in specific ways can strengthen muscles in the upper respiratory tract and thereby reduce snoring.
Try the following exercises to stop snoring. Start slow and gradually increase the number of sets you do. In some cases, you may be able to combine the exercises with other activities, such as commuting to work, walking your dog, working out, or taking a shower.
* Repeat each vowel (a-e-i-o-u) out loud for three minutes a few times a day.
* Place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth. Slide your tongue backwards for 3 minutes a day.
* Close your mouth and purse your lips. Hold for 30 seconds.
* With mouth open, move jaw to the right and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on left side.
* With mouth open, contract the muscle at the back of your throat repeatedly for 30 seconds. Look in the mirror to see the uvula (“the hanging ball”) move up and down.
* Singing can increase muscle control in the throat and soft palate, reducing snoring caused by lax muscles.
* Playing the didgeridoo may sound strange, but studies show that learning to play a didgeridoo (native Australian wind instrument) can strengthen the soft palate and throat, reducing snoring.
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