How do I stop snoring?
Once and for all, let's put to rest two common myths about snoring: (1) There isn't a thing you can do about it and (2) snoring is just noise, laughable or annoying, of no medical significance.
In truth, there are effective remedies for nightly snorting and harrumphing. In some cases, you may be able to use self-care strategies to end the noise for good within a week. Plus, there are doctors (called somnologists) who can successfully treat snoring and other sleep problems. And snoring is not just benign clatter. One type not only raises the roof but signals a serious medical problem.
Why All the Racket?
About 45 percent of all adults snore occasionally; 25 percent snore habitually.
Most snorers are men. What causes all the noise? An obstruction in the airway, usually the tongue. Most often when a snorer relaxes during sleep, his tongue falls backward against the rear of his throat. When he breathes, the air that enters his throat causes the tongue to vibrate against the throat tissues that it's resting against. The farther back the tongue drops, the more vibrating, or snoring, occurs.
For about 30 percent of heavy snorers, the tongue drops back so far that it winds up getting sucked into the airway "like a moist cork," in the words of Chicago snoring specialist Charles F. Samelson, M.D. The floppy throat muscles collapse around the tongue, the snorer's airway is completely blocked (halting all sound), and he actually stops breathing for 10, 20, or 30 seconds or more. These frightening silences happen at regular intervals, often after long sequences of raucous snoring.
After breathing ceases, his survival instincts usually come to the rescue, and he awakens enough to move his tongue out of the airway so he can breathe again. As soon as he falls into another deep slumber, however, the process repeats itself.
This malady is called sleep apnea. Its cause is unknown, although some experts suspect that apnea victims have narrower airways than other snorers. In any case, doctors take the disorder very seriously for several reasons. For one, doctors suspect that 2,000 to 3,000 people die in their sleep every year because of sleep apnea. The deaths are usually caused by suffocation.
More often, victims of sleep apnea spend many of their days in a half-awake condition due to the lack of a good night's sleep. And all that nightly breath holding also takes a slow but steady toll on the heart.
The first step in the management of snoring is changing the position of the snorer. Sleeping on the back is worse than sleeping on the side. If the snorer is overweight, loss of weight is often very beneficial. Sedatives, alcohol and smoking will all aggravate snoring. Nose clips sometimes prove successful.
After these steps have been tried, it is probably wise to seek the help of a doctor, as there are a few rare diseases that may cause snoring, and these must be excluded. If no underlying cause can be found, certain drugs have been successful in some cases. These vary from antidepressants that vary the depth of sleep, to respiratory stimulants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and rarely steroids. Your doctor can discuss the pros and cons of these with you.
Which anti-snoring treatment is used depends on what's causing the snore, how much the snorer wants to stop a snoring problem, and how dangerous the snoring is.
For a simple snoring problem, doctors often first recommend simple, noninvasive solutions like small changes in lifestyle. If these don't work, the snorer can opt for an anti-snoring device or a surgical procedure.