What is Snoring?
The word snoring conjures up an image of the sounds emanating from an individual in a deep sleep at night. Light sleepers consider the noise created by snoring like a big nuisance. Habitual (persistent) snoring maybe a part of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). However, there are different degrees of snoring. Snoring is basically a sound created by obstructed breathing. The sound is generated when the oropharyngeal walls vibrate, and there is an alteration or obstruction in the upper airway (also referred to as upper airway patency), due to certain factors. The upper airway includes the region extending from the lips, past the nose to the vocal cords.
Snoring is produced due to the following reasons:
- Vibrations in the upper airway
- Reduced cross-sectional area of the tubules in the upper airway
- Sound produced from the thorax
- Obstructed air flow though the upper airway
- Increased mucous congestion in the upper airway
Simple snoring does not affect sleep. Light sleepers snore evenly throughout sleep, while heavy sleepers snore longer and louder during deep or REM sleep. The American Sleep Disorders Association has classified snoring as mild (simple), moderate (primary), and severe (upper airway respiratory syndrome - UARS) based on the position of the body, the intensity of snoring, and the level of disturbance to the roommate or spouse. In individuals with simple snoring, they do not get disturbed in their sleep. In individuals with primary snoring, they are disturbed a few times (~5 times) in their sleep. In individuals with UARS, there are increased disturbances in sleep resulting in drowsiness during the day. The snoring volume is of high intensity during the snoring episodes and is broken when the individual wakes up.
Snoring represents one end of the OSAS spectrum with the other end consisting of sleep apnea, i.e., when breathing stops or decreases for brief periods. Sleep apnea results in drowsiness during the day, risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Individuals with sleep apnea display an increased intensity in snoring. Snoring is observed in 60% of the male population and 40% of the female population in the world. 20% of children snore occasionally, while 2% of children have severe snoring issues due to a breathing disorder.
What Causes Snoring?
Research studies have looked into the gender differences in snoring. There are fewer cases of snoring in women compared with men. While the psychological aspect of embarrassment may prevent women from reporting snoring, on the scientific side, anatomy plays an important role in the gender difference in snoring. Alcohol consumption is a common cause of snoring in both genders.
Snoring in Women
Fewer women report snoring compared with men. Some of the causes are:
- Distribution of fat in the body
- Low levels of estrogen/progesterone
- Shorter jaw and oropharynx
Snoring in Men
Nearly 60% of the men in the world snore. Some of the causes are:
- High levels of testosterone
- Long upper airway passage and restriction in the air passage
- Longer jaw and oropharynx
- Descent of the larynx (voice box)
Natural Ways to Stop Snoring
Snoring is affected by obesity, lying on the back, alcohol consumption, and obstruction in the nose.
Weight loss: It is advisable to lose weight, since there appears to be a correlation between the weight of an individual, the circumference of the neck, and snoring. However, though there is a positive decrease in snoring with weight loss, individuals find it difficult to the stick to the weight loss regimen. Surgical interventions are also hampered in an obese individual.
Sleep position: Individuals who sleep on their back, show a high frequency of snoring. Use of bolsters, special pillows, and attaching things to the back, are ways to reduce snoring. These precautions may benefit certain individuals, while others may require different interventions.
Nasal splint: In the case of a rare nasal obstruction, nasal splints aid in opening the nasal passage, and thereby reducing the volume and frequency of snoring. There are internal, reusable splints and external, disposable splints.
Homeopathy: Snoring may be reduced with homeopathic medications with an efficacy rate of 80%.
Oropharyngeal sprays: Snoring is reduced with oropharyngeal sprays. These sprays have an efficacy rate of 30%.
Aromatherapy: Marjoram oil, peppermint oil are decongestants that are applied at the base of the neck to ease air passage.
Avoid alcohol: There is increased upper airway resistance due to the sedative effect of alcohol. The muscles of the thorax relax and are not effective in controlling the movement of air through the nasal passage. The effect of alcohol on snoring is during the initial hours of sleeping and varies from individual to individual based on the dose. Hence, alcohol should be avoided or restricted in individuals susceptible to snoring.
Diet: Onions, garlic, horseradish, and thyme are useful in reducing snoring and the noise that is generated. Herbal teas and hot drinks aid in humidifying the nasal air passage. Honey added to these hot drinks coats the nasal passage and prevents excess vibration.
Simple Throat Exercises
- Push back the bottom row of teeth until you find the muscles on the side of the neck tighten.
- Clench the teeth and hold for 2 minutes. You will feel the throat muscles tighten.
- Apply pressure on the chin by pushing it backwards until you feel the muscles on the neck tighten.
- Singing tends to improve the muscle tone of the throat. A study performed at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust observed that singing exercises helped to control snoring. The exercises involve singing sounds, such as “ung” and “gar”, in a particular manner to help tighten throat muscles.