You snore when air flowing from your mouth or nose to your lungs vibrates the tissues of your throat. This occurs when the muscles (your soft palate and uvula) in the back of the roof of your mouth relax and narrow or block your airway while you are sleeping.
As the airway becomes narrower, the snoring becomes louder. On occasion, this loud and raspy sound can awaken you and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, making you feel tired the next day.
Congestion can make snoring worse. Decongestants, nose strips or nasal sprays may help solve the problem.
Snoring can cause restless sleep which in turn can cause daytime sleepiness as it disrupts the sleep of you and your partner. It can also cause sore throat, restless sleep, create a difficulty in concentration during the day, and more serious conditions like high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats.
What can I do?
If you snore there are lifestyle changes that you can make. First, if you are overweight, try to eat right and exercise to lose the excess pounds. Oftentimes, this will relieve snoring as reducing weight also reduces the narrowing of the passageway. Other lifestyle changes include not drinking alcohol, drinking caffeine or smoking before you go to bed. Going to bed at the same time each night promotes restful sleep, which can also reduce snoring. You can also try sleeping on your side, which sometimes may help.
If you’ve tried all the above methods and are still snoring, you can also try inclining your bed. To do this, place bricks under the legs of the bed to create an overall incline at the head of the bed; this cannot be created by pillows alone. Sleeping in an inclined position may prevent your tongue from falling back into your throat.
When should you call the doctor?
Snoring can also be a sign of something more serious – gasping for air and or chocking may signal obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is caused when the upper airway is completely or partially blocked during sleep. Your bed partner may often notice times when you stop breathing and start breathing again with a loud gasp, snort, or body jerk. This interruption of sleep is serious. It can cause irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, heart failure and stroke.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 12 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea, half of these people are overweight. If you are related to someone with sleep apnea, you are more likely to develop sleep apnea yourself. If your bed partner has commented on your snoring and gasping and you suffer symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, sore throat, headaches, trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, depression, or irritability, night sweats, sexual dysfunction, or you have a hard time getting up in the morning, you need to contact your primary care provider.
Sleep apnea may occur in children though the symptoms may not be as obvious. Children suffering from the condition may wet the bed, choke or drool, have night sweats, poor school performance, seem lazy in the classroom because they are sleepy, grind their teeth or have unusual sleeping positions, such as sleeping on the hands and knees, or with the neck hyper-extended.
Genetics may also play a role. If you have someone in your family who has a history of sleep apnea it may be due to a larger than average tongue or a deviated septum in the nose.
According to the World Health Organization, OSA is estimated to affect one in four men and one in nine women in the United States.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask worn over the nose or mouth, dental appliances or surgery.
If you or your partner feels that your snoring is an issue, or if you wake up gasping for breath because you have stopped breathing, make an appointment with your primary care provider.