Do you or your partner snore, making it difficult for one or even both of you to sleep properly?
Snoring is very common, and can be difficult for a partner to cope with. But it can also affect the snorer’s quality of sleep, and in some cases is a sign of sleep apnea, which would need medical treatment.
Fortunately, there are many ways to tackle snoring, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to specialist snoring devices.
In this article, you’ll find some quick tests to help you work out what’s causing the snoring in your case. And then information about the different treatment options and self-help techniques.
Part 1: Working out what’s causing your snoring
A loud snorer can produce a noise level of up to 80 decibels – the equivalent of sleeping next to a dishwasher or a loud alarm clock.
It’s estimated that perhaps 40% of people will snore at some time during their life. And more than 25% of people snore nearly all the time. Men are more prone to snoring than women, and it seems to increase with age, but then starts to decrease around the age of 70.
All the anti-snoring devices and techniques really only control the problem rather than curing it permanently. Having said that, many people do say they work well for them.
How much of a problem is it for you and your partner?
If you live alone and it doesn’t disturb your sleep, it might not be a major problem for you. But if it wakes you up, resulting in poor sleep, or disturbs your sleeping partner, then it’s a more obvious problem.
Surveys have shown that the partners of people who snore can suffer ill health due to disturbed sleep. And that they sometimes resort to another common remedy – sleeping in a different bedroom.
There’s also some evidence that snoring may get worse over time if not controlled. Prolonged snoring can cause the blood vessels to your muscles to be damaged, resulting in even less control and making your snoring worse.
So just trying to cope as best as possible with loud snoring might not be the best option for you or your partner in the long run.
what causes snoring?
The noise from snoring is caused by the vibrations of various areas of soft tissue in your mouth or nose as you breathe in and out.
The rush of air in and out as you breathe can make parts of your nose or mouth vibrate, especially if the normal airways are reduced in size. And in fact, the snoring noise can come from a number of different places:
- The soft palate – a layer of soft tissue at the top and back part of your mouth
- Tonsils – small glands at the top of your throat
- Uvula – soft tissue that hangs from the roof of your mouth
- Nose passageways
The problem is that while you sleep the muscles in your neck and mouth can relax, which can then result in the airways becoming restricted in size or even blocked.
This increases the pressure and speed of your breath when inhaling and exhaling, resulting in the loud noise as your body forces you to breathe.
Snoring can be even worse at certain times, for example, if you have a cold or swollen tonsils, which also reduce the size of your air passageways.
Snoring or sleep apnea?
It’s important to note that snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. But it’s difficult to self-diagnose whether you’re just a snorer or actually suffering from sleep apnea.
Many people who snore don’t realize they have sleep apnea until they seek medical help. And often it’s their partner who tells them that they occasionally stop breathing for short periods while sleeping.
Sleep apnea can be far more serious and has long-term health implications. So it’s a good idea to mention your snoring to your doctor, especially if it’s particularly loud or frequent. And if you ever wake up gasping for breath or feeling like you can’t breathe, or if you stop breathing at times.
Simple tests to identify the cause
It’s helpful to first work out if the problem is related to your mouth, tongue or nose. To decide where your snoring is coming from, there are three simple home tests that you can try:
A) Open mouth test
Many people breathe naturally through their mouth rather than their nose. But if your mouth drops open whilst asleep, it can lead to snoring. To test this:
- Open your mouth and try to snore – this might take a bit of effort but give it a go.
- Now shut your mouth and again try to make a snoring sound.
If you can make a snoring sound when your mouth is open, but find it difficult with your mouth shut, then your snoring may be because your mouth opens wide while you’re sleeping.
B) Tongue test
This test will help indicate if a vibrating tongue is the main culprit:
- With your mouth open, imitate a snoring sound.
- Now stick your tongue out and gently grip your tongue with your teeth to keep it out.
- Try to make a snoring sound.
If it was hard to make a snoring type sound with your tongue out, then your vibrating tongue may be the problem. If it was easy then the problem probably lies elsewhere.
C) Nose test
Try this test standing in front of a mirror:
- Close your mouth and keep it closed during the test.
- Using your finger push in one side of your nose and hold it closed.
- Now try breathing in through your other nostril.
- Watch to see if your open nostril seems to collapse or pull in a lot when you breathe in.
- Repeat this with the other nostril.
- Now try keeping the nostril open by holding it apart and again try breathing in.
In general, if you find your nostrils collapse a bit when you breathe in, and breathing seems to be easier when you pull it open, you may be a nose snorer. It’s probably best not to try this test if you’re suffering from a cold or blocked nose though as that might give you the wrong indications.
These aren’t definitive tests though, and maybe more than one version seems to apply to you. But it should at least give you some clues as to which treatment category to try first.
Part 2: treatment
1. Anti-snoring mouthpieces
Anti-snoring mouthpieces can work well for people who snore through the mouth or because of their tongue.
There are many different mouthpieces on the market and they work in different ways. They generally fall into three main categories:
- Vestibular shield – limits the amount of air you can get through your mouth, forcing you to breathe through your nose. This can be useful for those who snore through their mouth.
- Mandibular advancement device (MAD) – aims to push your jaw and tongue forward to reduce restriction of your throat. This is useful for those who snore due to a vibrating tongue.
- Tongue retaining mouthpiece – re-positions the tongue to prevent it blocking the airways. Like the MAD, it’s useful for those who snore due to their tongue falling back, blocking the airway and then vibrating.
Overall, the MAD devices have more health authority endorsements than other options and are often the first recommended treatment. They also have some independent research to show that they can be effective.
On the downside, some people complain that they can be uncomfortable to wear and/or result in soreness and stiffness if worn all night. In one small survey, it was found that 30% of people stopped using them after a few tries. But that still means 70% of users continued to use them.
If these are of interest to you my advice would be:
- Decide what type of device you think you need based on the tests above or your doctor’s advice.
- Read online reviews carefully before deciding on which one to try.
- Check if there’s a guaranteed money back trial period.
- It’s important that it feels reasonably comfortable in your mouth.
- If over the counter devices don’t work, you could talk to your dentist about making a custom mouthpiece. If you have other mouth related problems or a particularly small mouth you may want to discuss your case with your dentist or doctor first. Of course, this bespoke route will generally cost more.
- Despite some claims, there’s no real evidence that custom-made options are any better than good over the counter options.
2. Chin straps
Anti-snoring chin straps can be a simple and very effective solution for people who snore through their mouths.
If you snore through your nose or have a congested nose at any point, it’s not going to work though.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that chin straps aren’t advisable to use if you have sleep apnea, unless your doctor recommends one in conjunction with a CPAP machine.
They work by keeping the jaw firmly in place, which also has the effect of reducing the risk of the tongue and throat tissues flopping back and blocking the airways.
They might not look very appealing to wear in bed, but there are many different types you can try out if necessary.
Equally, they’re relatively low cost and perhaps no more uncomfortable than a mouth device, so it’s worth trialing for a while to see if it works for you.
3. Nasal devices
If you snore through your nose, a nasal device in the form of a strip or dilator could be an effective treatment.
Nasal strips are adhesive tape that you put on the outside of your nose. This pulls your nostrils apart, helping the air flow. A nasal dilator is a device which sits inside your nose and helps keep your nostrils open from the inside.
Again they may look a bit uncomfortable, but people do get used to them fairly quickly. There doesn’t appear to be any independent research on their effectiveness, but they aren’t that expensive so are worth trying.
It’s also good to note that they may also work for some people who feel they snore through the mouth. The reason being that you may breathe and snore through your mouth because your nasal passageways are restricted or blocked.
So it’s possible that these devices, by opening up your nostrils, help stop you breathing through your mouth.
4. Lifestyle changes that can help
There are some health and lifestyle factors which can contribute to snoring, such as:
- Being overweight: This can result in more soft tissue around your neck and the base of your tongue, perhaps without good muscle tone. That can increase the restriction of your airways and exacerbate your snoring. The medical profession suggests that a neck circumference greater than 17 inches( 43.2 cm) in men and 16 inches (40.6 cm) for women increases your risk of snoring and developing sleep apnea.
- Alcohol: Alcohol before bed can relax your muscles even more and increase the risk of you snoring. It’s easy to decide if this is a factor by noting if you snore after drinking.
- Sedatives and antidepressants: These drugs can relax your muscles, leading to snoring or making it worse.
- Smoking: Smoking can cause inflammation of your throat and/or nose, which again results in a smaller passageway for your breathing.
- Allergic reaction: If the inside of your nose becomes swollen due to an allergic reaction, this can force you to breathe through your mouth and increase the risk of snoring.
If you visit your doctor about a snoring problem they are likely to look at the above factors and recommend you take appropriate action.
5. Sleeping positions
Sleeping on your back
Sleeping on your back is more likely to cause you to snore compared to sleeping on your side. This may be because your head is pushed towards your chest, constricting your airways. Your tongue or soft tissues may also fall backward to block your airways.
Of course, some people feel uncomfortable sleeping on their side, and others will move onto their back whilst asleep anyway. But it can help not to start the night lying on your back.
There are also pillows designed for side sleepers which are very comfortable, and may encourage you to sleep more in that position.
Pillows to raise your head
If you lie flat in bed, the tongue or soft tissue can drop backward and block your windpipe. So some people use extra pillows or special pillows to raise their heads.
These aren’t the first option recommended by medical professionals, but may be worth a try if you’re still able to sleep in that raised position. And you could just try an extra pillow or two first before investing in a special pillow.
6. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines
CPAP devices are designed for people with sleep apnea and there are numerous options available. Additionally, they’ve also been shown to help some people reduce snoring.
They can be expensive and take some getting used to. So they may be the last resort if you’ve tried other options without success. It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor first before spending the money on one.
7. Surgical options
A number of surgical options to help stop snoring are available. Again though, these are often considered a last resort and will generally only be offered if snoring is having a serious impact on your health or well-being.
The procedures might not be covered by health insurance and can be expensive through private treatment.
The main surgical options include:
UPPP involves removing excess soft tissue in your mouth, your uvula (tissue that hangs from the roof of your mouth) as well as tonsils if seen as a problem.
The operation is carried out under a general anesthetic and can result in considerable discomfort for some weeks after the operation. It has a reported success rate of curing snoring of about 50%.
This is similar to UPPP above, but uses lasers or high-frequency radio waves to remove the soft tissue. It can also result in significant post operation discomfort, and may not be as effective as UPPP.
Soft palate implants
This procedure is only relevant if it’s been established that vibration of the soft tissue at the back of your mouth is the cause of your snoring.
Under a local anesthetic, special materials are injected into the patient’s soft palate to stiffen it and stop it vibrating during breathing.
This technique is again aimed at stiffening your soft palate to stop vibration. However, rather than an injection as above, it uses radio waves to shrink and stiffen the palate.
There are a number of other devices or treatments available, such as mouth and nose sprays or mouth exercises. However, there’s little evidence to support their effectiveness. Most experts don’t recommend these options very highly, but they are inexpensive so may be worth trying if nothing else helps.
Block out the noise
All of the above solutions are about trying to stop someone snoring. But if this proves to be difficult or impossible, there’s another possible option – try to reduce the impact of the noise on you.
Perhaps the most effective way to do this is to use earplugs. These will at least reduce the noise level and with luck may stop it disturbing you altogether.
You could also try using some noise-cancelling headphones along with some relaxing music. They might not block out the very loudest of snorers, but they might help muffle the noise.
Part 3: A step-by-step approach
The first thing to recognize is that, despite all the hype, there’s no 100% miracle cure. So you might find it’s a case of doing some trial and error.
To help you decide where to start, you can try the following approach:
- Firstly, if you snore loudly or have other signs of sleep apnea, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor.
- Using the tests in this article, try to work out if you snore through your mouth or nose.
- Regardless of what type of snorer you are, get your partner to help you find out if you only snore, or snore a lot worse when lying on your back. If that’s the case, try to sleep on your side.
- If you think you’re a mouth or vibrating tongue snorer regardless of sleeping position, or can’t sleep on your side, try a mandibular advancement device or tongue retaining mouthpiece.
- If a mouth device doesn’t work, try a chin strap or vestibular shield.
- If you snore through your nose, or think you snore through your mouth because of a blocked nose, try one of the nasal devices.
- You’ll note that I didn’t start with lifestyle changes. That’s because although being overweight, drinking or smoking can affect your snoring, it’s easy to suggest changing these, but often harder to do and/or can take time. If you’re able to address these points though, it could have a positive effect.
- If none of the above methods help, your doctor might be able to help you find an appropriate treatment.
Have you tried any of the options discussed in this article, and did they help at all? Feel free to talk about your experience in the comments below.