Snoring is a common condition categorised as noisy breathing during sleep. Snoring can be caused by a number of things, including the anatomy of your mouth and sinuses, allergies or illness, alcohol consumption, and your weight.
It is estimated that 90% of people will snore at some stage throughout their life, with middle-aged males being the most common offenders. Snoring usually becomes more serious as people age and can cause restlessness and irritability for both the snorer and partners and/or family members or the snorer.
When you fall asleep, the muscles in your mouth and throat relax which can cause your airways to narrow and vibrate with each inhale and exhale. The narrower your airway get, the louder the snoring will be due to the forcefulness air is pushed through causing greater vibrations.
Your airways may be narrowed due to:
- A low and thick soft palate or elongated uvula
- Being overweight
- Alcohol decreasing your natural defence against airway obstruction
- Nasal congestion
- A deviated or crooked nasal septum
- Sleep deprivation
- Sleeping position – especially back-sleeping
Generally snoring isn’t physically harmful, the two most common adverse health effects that are believed to be casually linked to snoring are daytime dysfunction and heart disease. However, in some cases, snoring may be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs when the muscles relax too much causing the airway to become blocked. Your natural defences kick in and the brain registers that there is a breathing obstruction, rousing the sleeper to reopen the airways – usually signalled by a large gasp, snort or choking breath. This can occur throughout the entire night with the sleeper not realising they are waking briefly which decreases the chance of entering deep restful sleep. Other symptoms that may be present in people suffering OSA include; morning headaches, night confusion, weight gain, loss of concentration and daytime restlessness.
Snoring can also be a significant symptom of other sleeping disorders such as:
- Sleep Breathing Disorder
- Circadian Rhythm Disorder
- Sleep Movement Disorder
In most cases, snoring won’t have obvious negative effects meaning snorers are usually unaware of the severity of their snoring, unless observed by a partner or family member.
There are many treatments for snoring from lifestyle changes to medical devices and procedures.
Some lifestyle changes to reduce common snoring include:
- Avoiding back sleeping
- Weight loss
- Maintaining healthy sleep patterns
- Avoiding high consumption of alcohol
- Treating nasal congestion
Medical devices that assist in reducing and eliminating snoring include:
- Oral appliances that help position the jaw, tongue and soft pallet to keep airways open.
- Breathing apparatus which uses continuous positive airway pressure to maintain consistent breathing patterns.
- Nasal devices promote nose breathing by opening nasal airways reducing the vibrations caused by heavy breathing through the mouth.
If you are concerned that your snoring is an indicator of a chronic sleeping disorder, consult your doctor who can diagnosis your condition by reviewing your medical and family history, your symptoms and your physical health. Medical tests such as tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging can check the structure of your airway for problems, such as a deviated septum. If your snoring is deemed sever, you may be asked to participate in a sleep study.
Sleep studies record information such as:
- Brain wave activity
- Blood oxygen levels
- Heart rate
- Breathing rate
- Sleep stages
- Eye and leg movements
In extreme cases, surgery may be advised by your doctor or specialist. There are three main surgical techniques used:
- UPPP which is when the tonsils are taken out and the soft palate reshaped.
- Laser treatment is where a laser is used to wound the palate. When the tissue heals, it is usually stiffer because of scarring.
- Somnoplasty is piecemeal burning of the soft palate.
Snoring can affect people of any age and gender with ever-changing frequency. Although it can be irritating, snoring rarely signifies a more serious sleep disorder. If you or someone you know snores, taking note of the kind and frequency of snoring will help indicate if medical treatment should be sought.