Let’s address the elephant in the room and talk about the noisiest night activity in your bedroom. You know, your loud huffing and puffing that drives your spouse crazy and disrupts his or her sweet slumber at night? The habit that leaves your spouse tired and unable to effectively function the next day?
That’s right, I’m referring to snoring.
Almost everyone snores. In fact, 40% of normal adults snore regularly1. While most of the time, snoring is just annoying to those sleeping in the same room—without the snorer knowing it—it’s useful to understand the underlying reasons behind it and learn to identify a chronic or a more sinister condition when you, well, hear it.
So, why do you snore?
During the sleep cycle, you move from the state of light to deep sleep. As you progress, the soft palate (the muscles in the roof of your mouth), your tongue and your throat relax. Sometimes, they are so relaxed that they partly close the upper airway and block the air travelling through to the lungs. When it happens, it reduces the space in your airways, causing the tissues to vibrate when air flows through.
By the way, you may already notice that nobody snores when they are awake because the muscles in the neck and throat only relax during sleep.
Why do some people snore louder than others? The severity of your snoring can be attributed to several factors, including the anatomy of your mouth and sinuses, alcohol consumption, sleep position and even your weight.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the anatomy of your mouth. The structure of your nose or jaw can be a reason for snoring. If you have a low, thick, soft palate, it means that your airway can be narrowed when it is relaxed. Chronic nasal problems such as congestion or a crooked partition between your nostrils as well as physical ailments in the nose and throat, including cold or allergies, may also be the culprit. These include nasal polyps (soft growths that line the insides of the sinuses) and enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
If you drink regularly, you probably know that alcohol is an effective muscle relaxant, and thus, drinking right before bedtime can be disruptive. Drinking slackens your throat and lowers your natural defense against airway obstruction.
Your sleep position can also impact snoring. Generally, snoring becomes worse when you sleep on your back. This is because the throat and the airway are more likely to cave in due to the weight of your neck or your chest. It is, however, a problem that can easily be resolved. An adjustment as simple as elevating your head slightly with a latex pillow or sleeping on your side or belly might do the trick.
People who are overweight are more likely to snore too. This is because the weight of the neck increases correspondingly with weight gain and adding extra tissues in the back of the throat means narrower airways. Also, as you age, your throat muscles and tongues tend to relax more, which causes you to snore more frequently.
Should You See a Doctor?
Should you be concerned if you snore? While it is not always true, chronic snoring may be more than just a nuisance; it can be a sign of something more serious, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when breathing is disrupted during sleep for short periods and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Other clues to obstructive sleep apnea include pauses in breathing, gasping or choking while sleeping, chest pain at night, morning headaches and sore throat upon awakening.
If you experience the above symptoms, you may want to consult a sleep specialist or a healthcare professional to identify the root cause of your problem and work out a treatment plan. Even if it is not a serious condition, treating your snoring will do your spouse much good. After all, snoring and romance don’t always go hand in hand, and you don’t want it to ruin your relationship, or a good night’s sleep.