Snoring occurs when a person’s upper airway tissue vibrates, making the person to breathe noisily as he or she sleeps. It is a common issue that affects most people at some time during their lives. Snoring is often not thought to be a serious health concern and home remedies could reduce it. If these do not work, medical treatment could be sought.
Sometimes, however, snoring could indicate a more serious health problem. If it becomes disruptive or a person has other symptoms, it is best to see a doctor.
During waking hours, the tissues in the throat and upper airway are open and air enters the lungs easily for most people. During sleep, the soft tissues and tongue relax. This can partially block the airway. If the air coming in and out of the airway meets resistance, vibration can occur, causing snoring.
Factors that can lead to snoring include: smoking, drinking alcohol, using depressants or other muscle relaxants, sleeping on your back, congestion from a cold or allergy, a deviated septum or other structural features, being middle-aged or being male, pregnancy and genetic characteristics that affect the structure of the mouth and throat.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, around 40% of adult males and 24% of adult females snore regularly. Snoring is more common during middle age, while males aged over 70 years are less likely to snore than younger males.
Research also suggests that people who snore are more likely to have obesity, stress and low levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol. These factors all increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, experts do not know what exact role snoring plays in these conditions or whether they are a cause or an effect.
Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea. A person who experiences this condition may appear to stop breathing for a while as they sleep, then make choking or gasping sounds.
There are two types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea involving a structural blockage. This type of sleep apnea often has links with snoring.
- Central sleep apnea which is due to a problem with the central nervous system that controls breathing. This type of sleep apnea is not associated with snoring.
Apart from loud snoring, a person with sleep apnea may also experience daytime sleepiness, insomnia, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, irritability and low libido or sex drive.
Sleep apnea has links with other conditions, such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, hypothyroidism or problems relating to the nervous system. Some research suggests that approximately 50% of people with hypertension may have sleep apnea. Experts also believe that sleep apnea contributes to high blood pressure.
Several home remedies may help with snoring. But please avoid alcohol and sedating medications. Drugs that act as depressants or sedatives aim to relax muscles, which can lead to snoring. Alcohol also acts as a depressant. People should only use prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids under the guidance of a doctor.
Nasal congestion can also cause snoring, often due to inflammation. Medicines and other techniques can help reduce congestion and inflammation. They include: nasal strips, corticosteroid and moisturizing nasal sprays, antihistamines, a room humidifier.
Sleeping position may affect snoring. A person who sleeps on their back can cause their tongue to relax and block the airway. Alternative sleeping positions and methods to try include:
- sleeping on your side
- raising the head of the bed by a few inches
- using an anti-snore pillow to improve neck position
Another tip is to sew a tennis ball or other soft object in the back of a person’s sleep shirt. This might help prevent rolling over to the back sleeping position. There are also positional sleepers available online to help a person avoid sleeping on their back.
In a person with obesity, fat tissue can surround and narrow the airway, obstructing the airflow, which can lead to snoring. Maintaining a moderate weight may reduce the risk of snoring. A custom-fitted oral appliance, similar to a retainer or mouth guard, may help keep the airway open by moving the tongue and jaw slightly forward. A specially trained dentist can design this device for a person.
Research suggests that throat exercises may help strengthen throat muscles and prevent them from collapsing during sleep in some people. However, the study results are mild and inconsistent, while practitioners cannot agree on what these standardized exercises should be.
Here are examples of exercises that some experts recommend:
- Repeating each vowel (“a, e, i, o, u”) out loud several times a day for 3 minutes.
- Closing your mouth and pursing your lips, and holding this for 30 seconds.
- Opening your mouth and tightening the muscle at the back of the throat for 30 seconds. Repeat several times.
- Making a vowel sound intermittently and then continuously for 3 minutes each day.
- Putting the tip of the tongue behind the top front teeth, and then sliding the tongue backward. Do this for 3 minutes every day.
- Pushing the tongue against the roof of the mouth for 3 minutes each day.
- Pressing the tongue into the bottom of the mouth while keeping the tip against the front teeth for 3 minutes a day.
- Opening the mouth and moving the jaw to one side. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
A person will need to practice these exercises consistently and regularly to see results.
Tobacco smoke is an irritant that can result in tissue inflammation. The upper airway is a narrow passage, so even small amounts of inflammation can restrict airflow. Quitting smoking can help reduce this risk and lower the likelihood of other diseases and conditions.
Develop a good sleep hygiene program by getting consistent sleep on a comfortable bed, in a dark, cool room. Experts link inadequate sleep with weight gain, which can lead to snoring. Where possible, follow these tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- ensuring the bed is comfortable
- making sure the room is cool and quiet
- using blinds or heavy curtains to restrict outside light
- sticking to a regular sleeping and waking schedule, even on weekends
- avoiding screen time before sleeping
- avoiding eating large meals and drinking fluids close to bedtime
- taking part in exercise, but not within 2–3 hours of bedtime
- avoiding caffeine and nicotine
- keeping smart phones and other devices outside the room
Self-dubbed “the greatest pillow ever invented,” the Purple Harmony Pillow is designed to cradle your neck, keep you cool and help you drift off to dreamland in no time. If a person’s snoring or sleep apnea is severe, a doctor may suggest treatment alongside lifestyle measures. This is the first-line treatment for people with obstructive sleep apnea. A person wears a specialized mask during sleep that delivers pressurized air. In some cases, surgery could help resolve severe snoring. Several options are available for people with snoring or sleep apnea, but results are often difficult to predict and less robust than CPAP.
- Palatal implants, which involve inserting small fiber rods into the soft palate to stiffen loose tissue.
- Septoplasty can help straighten a deviated nasal septum.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty removes excess tissue from the soft palate and uvula.
- Radiofrequency stiffens loose tissue in and around the throat and tongue.
- Genioglossus advancement involves moving the tongue attachment forward to allow for more breathing space.
There are risks with all types of surgery, so it should be a last resort. Heavy snoring and sleep apnea can disrupt sleep, leading to fatigue and difficulty in concentrating. A lack of sleep can also increase the risk of some mental health issues. If a person experiences severe snoring, especially with other symptoms, they may wish to seek medical advice. A medical professional or dental specialist can help determine any underlying causes, and they may suggest ways of stopping or reducing snoring. Snoring occurs due to the airway tissues vibrating during sleep. It can occur for various reasons. Snoring may indicate a medical condition. It can also lead to embarrassment and can disrupt the sleep of the person and other nearby partners or people. A doctor could advise a person on how to reduce their snoring.