Anybody who snores, whether softly or loudly, is often the butt of jokes. Snoring causes disturbance not just to the snorer, but also to others who share the room with him or her. Snoring is known to lead to marital problems; it causes constant tiredness; often it is responsible for unsatisfactory output at the workplace; and it also lowers personal effectiveness.
An estimated 45 per cent of people snore at some time, with another 25 per cent classified as chronic snorers. And it's more common in men than women. Let's look at the common causes of snoring.
Snoring may not destroy sleep, but it has the potential to lead to sleep apnoea, a potentially life-threatening condition. Apnoea, in simple terms, is upper airway obstruction during sleep. It is linked with frequent awakening and daytime sleepiness. In addition, snoring is often associated with other sleep disorders, including "restless leg syndrome", which is caused by spasm in the arms and legs during sleep.
During sleep apnoea, the snorer stops breathing for several seconds. S/he quickly breathes air again, and slides back to sleep. It is a familiar sight which most of us have witnessed, irrespective of whether we snore or not.
The why and how of it
Snoring occurs when the throat constricts, or collapses, and partly blocks the airway. What actually leads to the noise are the tongue and upper throat, or soft palate and the tonsils during breathing.
Ignorance might be bliss for the one who snores but not for the one who is compelled to hear. Experts say that snoring can reach the 80-decibel level, the level of noise produced by your home's small, portable drilling machine in full throttle.
Struggling day and night
In cases of snoring due to sleep apnoea, breathing can halt for almost half-a-minute. If this happens, the body goes into alarm mode, as the oxygen supply gets cut off. Soon after, the heart pumps frantically in order to find oxygenated blood to flow. Following this, the heart rate also rises. This signals the brain, which, in turn, arouses the person from sleep and drives him to open the throat and "gulp" air. However, once the chain is broken, the snorer quietly slips back to sleep as if nothing ever happened.
Following a night of constant waking and sleeping, the snorer often works up a headache and struggles to stay awake through a "drowsy" day. This is no small struggle: it lays stress on the heart during the night and increases blood pressure.
While there are a handful of ayurvedic and homoeopathic remedies that can help you switch-off the snorer's noise, there also are some devices that can come to you help. For eg. a jaw retaining mouthpiece can be a solution worth trying. This jaw retaining mouthpiece, pulls your jaw forward to keep you from snoring
Fat always makes matters worse
Snoring is more prevalent in people who are overweight. This is due to increased fatty tissues in the throat which narrow the airway. In addition to this, overweight individuals have poor muscle tone. This causes the soft palate to droop during sleep: the smaller the airway, the noisier the snoring. This is also one main reason why obese individuals are asked by their doctors to lose weight.
Exercise your snore away
Hold your upper and lower molars together, gently. Open your mouth. Press your molars as wide as you can. Don't stretch. Repeat 10-15 times. This exercise helps strengthen your jaw muscles and opens the back of your mouth. Remember: the muscles that you "contract" in the back of your throat, during exercise, are mainly to blame for your snoring.
When home remedies fail [see Self Help for Snoring below], seek the advice of an otolaryngologist, or ENT specialist. The specialist may first advise non-invasive orthotic devices at a dentist's clinic. These mouthpieces pull the jaw down and forward, and open the airway wider at the base of the tongue. There are different types of mouthpieces—some hold the jaw firmly in place; some allow for a little movement. However, the downside is that orthotic devices are expensive, and they don't seem to have a consistent record. Also, no doctor can forecast their success.
Experts say that the most common and most effective treatment for snoring/sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure [CPAP], where the snorer wears an oxygen mask that gently forces air into the lungs all night long. CPAP has a high success rate. On the other hand, ENT surgeons recommend surgical treatment for snoring. Most of the surgical methods seem to do the same job of tightening or removing the soft tissue at the back of the throat, with variations. They are not comparable to CPAP as far as success rates are concerned. They also seem to only work in about 30-40 per cent of cases.
Things to avoid
- Don't sip alcohol, or smoke, before bed-time. This aggravates snoring
- Avoid the use of tranquillisers, sleeping pills, or anti-cold, and anti-allergy medications [anti-histamines], before bed-time.
Self help for snoring
Now for some simple things that you can do by yourself...
- Sleep on your side; not on your back. The throat is less likely to collapse and block breathing when you lie on your side
- Some doctors prescribe what is called as "tennis ball" treatment. It is a simple idea of sewing a pocket on the back of your pyjama, or shorts' top, which will hold a tennis ball. This "forces" you to sleep on your side
- Elevate your head by using a pillow or tilting the head-side of your bed
- Do not eat a heavy meal before bed-time. A full stomach pushes the diaphragm upwards. This can affect your breathing pattern
- Avoid smoking. Smoking before bed-time can cause swelling and inflammation of the throat's inside layer
- Take to singing—singing is proven to tone the flabby muscles in the throat
- Drink two cups [250 ml/cup] of hot herbal, or green tea, without sugar or milk, one-hour before bed-time. Tea helps reduce the noise in your snoring pattern
- Steam inhalation is good too. It helps to open up the airways.
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