Of all the weird and sometimes gross functions our body endures, snoring is one big headache. We’ve all been woken (or reluctantly kept awake) by the robust, involuntary gurgles, whether it’s a bed partner’s or our own, but most of us don’t understand why they happen. It’s time to change that and learn how to tone down the rumble when a quick nudge or flip isn’t working. Here’s why you snore, as well as common causes of snoring and how to stop snoring.
What is snoring?
At its core, snoring is sound, and sound is created by vibration, explains Abhinav Singh, MD, MPH, FAASM., medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center. During sleep, breathing delivers oxygen to the body, and when this airflow passes over the soft tissues at the back of the mouth (also known as the posterior pharynx) – including the uvula, side walls of the mouth, back of the tongue and soft palate – they vibrate, causing snoring. Vibrations from the back of the nasal passages can also contribute to the sound, Singh says, but the back of the mouth does the heavy lifting.
The symptoms of snoring can seem pretty obvious, especially to your bed partner. But loud noise is not its only function. Snoring can also come with:
- Breathing pauses observed during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- morning headache
- Sore throat upon waking
- Agitated sleep
- Gasping or choking at night
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain at night
Causes of snoring
Some people snore more than others due to naturally narrow airways or weight gain in the neck area, Singh says. Most often, however, constant snoring occurs when the soft palate and its surrounding tissues are relaxed or, as Singh puts it, “flabby.”
“As these tissues sag and air circulates, they vibrate,” adds Raj Dasgupta, MD, board-certified sleep physician, associate program director for the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Southern California and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board.
What causes sagging? Life habits, above all. Drinking alcohol before bed, taking certain medications (like sleeping pills), and pre-existing health conditions can all relax your mouth muscles. Inflammation of the airways caused by congestion, sinusitis or rhinitis also creates an opportunity for vibration, which is why you may snore when you are sick.
Tips for a calmer night’s sleep
Whether you’re the nudger or nudger at night, you could benefit from these tips for a more peaceful sleep.
- get off your back. Dr. Dasgupta says you’re more likely to snore when you sleep on your back because gravity causes the tongue to block your airway. Try sleeping on your side instead.
- Eat a balanced diet. Both Dr. Dasgupta and Dr. Singh say that a narrowing of the airways caused by weight gain can lead to increased snoring.
- Stay rested. It might be easier said than done, but when you’re overtired, Dasgupta says, the body “jumps” straight into deeper stages of sleep, creating louder snoring.
- Try a sleep tracking app. Apps like Snore Lab record and track snoring, which can help you understand its patterns and make adjustments. “They’re not the most accurate, but they’ll give you a starting point,” Singh advises.
- Do a sinus rinse. If you suffer from allergies or sinusitis, Dr. Singh recommends a sinus rinse (such as a neti pot) can help clean them and minimize noise.
- Use an air purifier. Although you love your pets, their dander doesn’t always love you.
When to consult a doctor
If you’ve tried all of these solutions and you’re still having trouble sleeping soundly (or if you’re nudging yourself more than three times a week), Dr. Singh says a sleep apnea evaluation can be justified. The condition affects 20 million people nationwide, according to Dr Dasgupta, and is marked by breathing disorders that cut off oxygen supply, creating brain wave tribulation and preventing quality sleep.
In addition to snoring, other signs of sleep apnea include headaches, night sweats, fatigue, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and high blood pressure. If left untreated, the condition can lead to a long list of other symptoms, including heart attack, stroke, anxiety, and depression.
Whether it’s you or your sleeping companion who’s constantly sawing logs, don’t let it linger too long. “When you’re in your normal state of health and you snore, that’s when you have to deal with it,” insists Dr Singh. “Don’t ignore the snoring anymore. When you hear something, say something.
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