Snoring is the sound heard when the airway is blocked during sleep. It can result from a number of things: obesity, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, deformities in the nasal passages, etc. Smoking, heavy drinking, overeating, especially before bedtime, and nasal allergies can lead to snoring by swelling the nasal passages and blocking the free flow of air. Also, persons who sleep on their backs are more likely to snore because the tongue falls back toward the throat and partly closes the airway. Nine out of ten snorers are men, and most of them are age 40 or over.
Snoring can be merely a nuisance or can be a signal of a serious health problem, sleep apnea, which might even require surgery. Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing is stopped for a time period of at least 10 seconds, but usually 20 to 30 seconds or even up to 1 or 2 minutes during sleep. It is more common in men than in women and typically affects men who are middle-aged and older. It can result from:
- An obstructed airway. This is more common as people age, especially those who are obese or who have smoked for many years.
- A central nervous system disorder such as a stroke, a brain tumor or even a viral brain infection.
- A chronic respiratory disease.
- Sleep on your side. Prop an extra pillow behind your back so you won’t roll over. Try sleeping on a narrow sofa for a few nights to get accustomed to staying on your side.
- Sew a large marble or tennis ball into a pocket on the back of your pajamas. The discomfort it causes will remind you to sleep on your side.
- If you must sleep on your back, raise the head of the bed by putting bricks or blocks between the mattress and box springs. Or buy a wedge especially made to be placed between the mattress and box spring to elevate the head section. Elevating the head prevents the tongue from falling against the back of the throat.
- If you are heavy, lose weight. Excess fatty tissue in the throat can cause snoring.
- Don’t drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal within 3 hours before bedtime. For some reason, both seem to foster snoring.
- If necessary, take an antihistamine or decongestant before retiring to relieve nasal congestion (which can also contribute to snoring). [Note: Older men should check with their doctor before taking decongestants. Decongestants that have ephendrine can give older men urinary problems.]
- Get rid of allergens in the bedroom such as dust, down filled (feathered) pillows and bed linen (this may also relieve nasal congestion).
- Try over-the-counter “nasal strips”. These keep the nostrils open and lift them up, keeping nasal passages unobstructed.
Questions to Ask
Do you notice the following signs of sleep apnea during your working hours:
Has someone else noticed that breathing has stopped for 10 seconds or longer (sleep apnea) in the midst of snoring?
Has snoring persisted despite using the self-care tips below?
Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism
© American Institute for Preventive Medicine