What Causes Snoring? And What You Can Do About It
Everything you need to know about snoring.
A freight train holds no candle to the snoring emanating from the other end of the bed. Your dilemma: wake them up or say goodbye to a good night’s sleep.
Some 48 percent of people in the U.S. say they snore, according to the American Sleep Association. If your snoring partner ignores the noisy problem (and your midnight cries of despair) tell them how much it affects their health. Do they know that snoring may impact the heart, and signal breathing problems? Your relationship’s health may suffer too. Research out of the UK lists snoring as one of the leading causes of divorce, reports the Daily Express. Don’t kid yourself: all those sleepless nights will kill any leftover butterflies in your stomach.
Learning about what causes snoring, and how it impacts relationships, can also help you figure out the best solution so that everyone can get a nice, quiet night’s sleep.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring occurs when the soft tissues of the throat relax, and the air flowing past causes them to vibrate. Certain anatomy, such as a low, thick, soft palate or long tonsils, may crowd your airway, making you susceptible to snoring, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nasal congestion exacerbates the problem by forcing mouth breathing and increasing throat tissue vibrations. Excess weight is another snoring culprit, says sleep expert Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, who is board-certified in sleep medicine. The extra fat around the neck narrows the air passage.
Pregnant women have an increased likelihood of snoring, primarily due to weight gain. In a study published in the journal BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, researchers found that in expectant women, snoring rose from about 8% in the first trimester to 21% in the third trimester.
Smokers also are at a higher risk for snoring. The tobacco habit triggers mucus production and congests the airway — a surefire way to up snoring risk.
Taking certain medications, such as sleeping pills or opioids, may also increase snoring, Dr. Rosenberg says. If someone starts snoring soon after taking opioids for chronic pain, they could have a breathing problem caused by the drugs, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Taking opioids in combination with other medications, such as Valium, or with alcohol, increases the risk of breathing problems.
Your bedtime routine and sleep habits may contribute to snoring too, explains the Mayo Clinic. For example, banish any nighttime tipple — no alcohol at least two hours before bed. Booze relaxes throat muscles, and those relaxed muscles lead to snoring. Sleeping on your back also promotes snoring, as gravity narrows the airway.
How Snoring Impacts You
Snoring does not always signal a health problem, but it can. Some snorers have the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea, which causes pauses in breathing during sleep. Snorers without apnea should not ignore the wheezing — it may damage the delicate tissues of the soft palate, create problems with swallowing, and affect cardiovascular health.
Obstructive sleep apnea often manifests itself through loud and frequent snoring. The condition may cause frequent awakenings, light sleep, daytime drowsiness, and increased blood pressure, which can put strain on the heart, according to WebMD.
You can flip that equation around too, especially for pregnant women. If they snore and have high blood pressure, they may have sleep apnea, suggest findings published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. And, notes one expert, snoring during pregnancy also increases the risk of having a cesarean section and delivering a smaller baby, according to the journal SLEEP.
The snoring vibrations may cause muscle and nerve lesions in your soft palate, according to research conducted at Umeå University in Sweden. Such damage could result in swallowing problems, the authors explained, and sleep apnea.
Snorers also have narrower carotid arteries, the vessels that supply the brain with blood, than those who don’t snore, reports ENT Today. The narrowing of these vessels raises your risk of stroke, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
How Snoring Affects Your Relationship
Forget arguing over vacations and the checkbook. Snoring can seriously strain relationships between adults who share a bed. The snorer suffers from guilt and shame, as their partner can’t sleep and resents their snoring other half, writes sleep expert Michael Breus for Psychology Today.
Poor sleep leads to exhaustion, moodiness and lack of patience. The phenomenon has a scientific name, Dr. Rosenberg notes: “spousal arousal syndrome.” One partner may move into another bedroom, he says. (Interesting fact: Male snoring forces female bed partners to sleep in different rooms more often than the other way around, suggest findings published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.)
Some couples may enjoy separate beds, but for others, such separation may hinder emotional and sexual intimacy, Breus notes.
“Couples may find themselves having sex less often when they’re regularly sleeping apart,” he writes. “Partners also may miss the physical closeness of sleeping together, and the emotional bond that it confers for many people.”
How to Stop Snoring
All is not lost when it comes to snoring — you can fix it, or at least some of it.
In bed, ask your partner to gently nudge you awake if you start snoring.
Try to avoid sleeping on your back — your side is better. Sleeping on a 15-degree incline may also help, Dr. Rosenberg says. Beds like the Sleep Number bed, which adjust the mattress incline, can help.
The right pillow matters, too. “A pillow that properly aligns the head, neck and shoulders can help open the airways to reduce snoring,” says Pete Bils, the vice president of sleep science and research for Sleep Number.
If your snoring stems from persistent nasal congestion, you can try Breathe Right strips for relief or ask your doctor for help, Dr. Rosenberg says.
Lifestyle changes can offer more permanent results. Losing weight, for example, can reduce the fat tissue around your airway.
If you suspect that pain meds are causing snoring and breathing issues, talk to a doctor, the Cleveland Clinic recommends.
For apnea sufferers, a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine helps to eliminate snoring by delivering air pressure via a hose and mask or a nosepiece. The condition occurs when airways close or get clogged, causing breathing pauses and snoring. The CPAP machine pushes air into the airways to keep them open. The machine may take some time to get used to. If you are interested in getting one, consult your doctor.
Special exercises that strengthen the tongue muscles and the throat muscles may help, too, Dr. Rosenberg explains. Talk to a speech therapist if you want to give them a try (ask about “myofunctional therapy”). Such tiny muscle workouts cut apnea by 50 percent in adults and 62 percent in children, notes a study in the journal SLEEP.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your snoring severely affects your wellbeing or relationship, it may be time to talk to a professional. Here is what Dr. Rosenberg says are signs you should go to the doctor:
1. Your snoring is ruining your partner’s sleep, or
2. You have signs of sleep apnea, such as:
- Stopping breathing at night
- Waking up with headaches in the morning and feeling fatigued and sleepy during the day
- Getting up a lot to pee during the night
Snoring is no joke. It can damage your health and your relationship. Thankfully, you and your partner don’t have to suffer forever. Finding the right sleeping position, losing weight and forgoing that glass of wine with dinner should help. If you have been putting off a doctor’s appointment, the best time to go is now. Remember, you are doing it for your own wellbeing and your relationship.
Finally, take a look at these products that can help you win the exhausting battle with snoring:
- Start by finding a perfect bed, such as the Sleep Number 360® smart bed, that adjusts firmness, comfort and support based on your movements.
- Add a Sleep Number FlexFit™ adjustable base which allows you to gently elevate your or your partner’s head to help alleviate snoring.
- Finally, find a perfect pillow by taking this PillowFit® quiz.
Like diet and exercise, quality sleep is essential for optimal health and performance. Because everyone’s sleep needs are different, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology inside, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night’s sleep.