SNORING IS the unwanted noise made during sleep that results from obstruction to the flow of air through the upper breathing passages.
During sleep, the muscles of your upper airway may become loose and relaxed. This creates a narrowing of the air passages that can obstruct the smooth flow of air when you breathe. The turbulence causes tissues in the throat (soft palate and uvula) to vibrate, resulting in the noise we call snoring. It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women have a snoring problem. The prevalence of snoring increases with age.
Snoring may be associated with the serious medical condition, obstructive sleep apnoea. The obstruction that creates snoring may also produce a temporary stoppage of breath called sleep apnoea. With sleep apnoea obstruction progresses to an actual collapse of the upper airway. This may cause the sufferer to suddenly awaken many times at night with serious damage to health and to the quantity of his or her sleep.
Generally speaking, the irregular turbulent airflow caused by an obstructed airway underlies the various causes of snoring and is usually related to one of the following conditions:
Weak throat muscles, causing obstruction during sleep.
A mal-positioned jaw, often caused by abnormal tension in the jaw muscles.
Excess fat deposited in and around the throat, commonly found in the obese.
Obstruction to the nasal passageway from nasal allergies, the common cold, sinusitis, nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum
Enlarged adenoids or tonsils in children.
An enlarged tongue, a long uvula or other tissues in the upper airways that cause obstruction.
Use of relaxants such as alcohol or sedative drugs that over-relax the throat muscles.
Sleeping on one's back, resulting in the tongue falling to the back of the mouth.
Physical and mental exhaustion and stress.
Swellings or tumours in the neck and throat can also cause snoring.
Effects on health
Snoring is known to cause sleep deprivation to both the snorers and those living with them. Daytime drowsiness, narcolepsy, irritability, fatigue, lack of focus, headaches, high blood pressure and decreased libido is commonly experienced. In one study, 55 per cent of snorers admitted their snoring has a detrimental effect on their sex lives.
Experts report that snoring can cause significant psychological problems and severely disrupt the lifestyle of snorers. Other research showed a significant improvement in marital relations after snoring was corrected.
Snorers may die younger. Studies reveal an increased risk of heart attack by 34 per cent, and of stroke by 67 per cent in snorers. Recent investigations associate loud snoring with damage to the main arteries to the brain, (carotid artery) and increased risk of brain damage and stroke.
Researchers believe that loud snoring creates turbulence in the blood flowing in the carotid arteries in the neck, adjacent to the airway. Turbulence is known to damage blood vessels.
There are many treatments offered by medical specialists that include oral and dental appliances, CPAP machines, laser or conventional surgery or medication. These may be expensive and troublesome. Before considering those options, try to identify the possible underlying causes for your snoring and correct them if at all possible. There are also several natural interventions that may be very effective, safe and less costly.
If you are overweight, you need to lose the excess fat, as obesity is the major reason why many people snore. Obesity narrows the nasal and throat passages making airway obstruction more likely. The obese or overweight must lose weight if they are to cure snoring. In some cases even a modest decrease in weight can dramatically improve snoring.
More than 60 per cent of people sleep on their backs and this increases the risk of snoring. If you change your sleeping position to on your side or on your belly you can significantly reduce snoring.
Use an anti-snoring pillow
There are various anti-snoring pillows available. Some are positioned at the back of the neck and shoulders and help to reduce snoring by keeping your airway open. A second type of pillow is worn around the neck to keep the chin up and away from the chest. Yet another type is placed under the back to help you sleep on your side.
But you do not have to buy a special pillow as you can position your old pillow to create the results described above. Just be careful that your old pillow has not accumulated dust or mould that may aggravate allergies and congestion.
As explained above, lax throat and jaw muscles will cause snoring. There are simple exercises to tone those muscles that are too relaxed when you sleep.
Sing for 20 to 30 minutes a day as singing is perhaps the best exercise for toning your throat muscles. Professional singers seldom snore.
This special sounding exercise works the soft palate, the throat and the tongue. The exercise is done by making an 'ung-gah' sound. On the 'ung' sound, your soft palate descends to touch the back of your tongue, and on the 'gah' sound, it elevates. Repeating this sound targets and strengthen the appropriate muscles. Once you get used to saying 'ung-gah', you should sing the phrase.
Regular deep yawning done deliberately is an excellent exercise that helps to widen your throat and reduce snoring.
Stick out your tongue as far a possible and with your mouth opened raise and lower the protruding tongue to alternately touch your upper and lower lips. Do sets of 10 repetitions several times a day.
Perform a chewing action that exercises your mouth, tongue and jaw all at once. Pretend you are chewing vigorously on gum for about one minute. Rest and repeat.
Another effective jaw exercise involves protruding your lower jaw over your upper jaw while showing your teeth. Hold this position for 10 seconds then relax and repeat frequently.
Herbs may be used to shrink the lining of the nostrils while tightening the tissues of the roof of the mouth thus reducing the vibrations that cause snoring. Several herbs can be utilised because of their astringent and relaxant properties. These include lavender, hops, eyebright, peppermint, spearmint, eucalyptus, thyme and valerian. They may be applied as nasal or throat sprays, inhaled as essential oils or consumed as teas. The antioxidant herbs rosemary, schizandra and green tea also help to relieve sinus congestion.
These nasal strips look like Band-Aids and are applied to the nostrils at bedtime. The strips are intended to expand the nasal passage from the outside and facilitate easier breathing through the nose while discouraging mouth breathing. They are safe, inexpensive and often effective.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.