We've all heard the jokes, the stories and the tall tales that make up snoring lore. But if you're the one waking up tired or feeling sluggish all day because you're snoring or your bedmate is, you know it's a problem to take seriously.
When you sleep, muscles in your airway relax and the airway narrows. When the airway narrows too much, it disrupts the airflow, making it turbulent. This rough airflow causes the surrounding tissue to vibrate, producing the noise we know as snoring. The source of your snoring depends on where in your airway the narrowing occurs.
When nasal passages are swollen by a cold, allergies or a reaction to smoking, snoring may be temporary. For someone with a deviated septum, the problem is ongoing.
Other causes of snoring include:
- A particularly large uvula (the cone-shaped tissue that hangs down the back of your throat)
- Enlarged tonsils, adenoids or tongue
- An elongated soft palate (this is the roof of your mouth)
- A very small jaw
- Poor muscle tone in the tissues around the upper airway
- Excess fat in the neck area may reduce the width of the air passage and promote snoring
Lots of devices claim to help people stop snoring. Some encourage you to sleep on your side; others are dental appliances that keep your airway open by preventing your tongue from falling back or by moving your jaw forward. Check with your doctor before buying any such devices. Your doctor may be able to recommend simple, inexpensive ways to prevent your snoring.
If you snore only when lying on your back, you can sew a tennis ball or golf ball into the back of your pajamas. This makes it uncomfortable to sleep on your back. You can also keep air passages open by using an extra pillow or propping up the head of your bed a few inches to raise your head.
Other treatment options include:
- Losing weight, if you are overweight
- Quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol in the evening, and avoiding sleeping pills or tranquilizers (they slow breathing and decrease muscle tone)
- Using a humidifier or medication to reduce swollen nasal tissues
- Having surgery to correct a deviated septum or remove large tonsils and adenoids
For people who don't respond to other measures, more invasive treatments may be considered:
- Palatal implants. Small stents are placed in the airway wall to stiffen the airway, preventing snoring.
- Laser surgery. A laser shortens the uvula and makes small cuts in the soft palate on either side of the uvula. As these cuts heal, the surrounding tissue pulls tighter and stiffens, decreasing tissue flapping.
- Somnoplasty. Radiofrequency waves delivered through the tips of tiny needles shrink the obstructive tissue.
Your doctor can determine if your problem is normal snoring or sleep apnea. Sleep apnea requires different treatments than snoring.
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