13 Fast Ways to Silence Snoring
Bob is a 41-year-old electrician who lives in a Philadelphia suburb with his girlfriend, Brenda. Recently, Bob and Brenda came to see me. When I asked Bob how I could help him, Brenda immediately chimed in, “He snores all night and it’s getting louder…I’m not able to sleep from the noise and, more importantly, I’m worried there might be something wrong with him.” Bob nodded in agreement.
As a follow up to our last article on insomnia, another problem that can interfere with a good night’s sleep is snoring. In fact, this issue can create difficulties in the bedroom, causing many couples to sleep apart. If you or your partner is struggling with snoring, don’t despair. There are some practical solutions that can make a big difference.
You might be surprised to know that snoring affects about 40% of all midlife people, making it the most common of all sleep problems. Though we traditionally used to think about snoring as a “male” problem, both sexes are affected – about four out of ten men snore- but women are catching up with as many as three out of ten women having the problem. Snoring can interfere with quality of sleep, put a strain on your relationship and cause a decline in physical and emotional intimacy.
What is snoring? During deep sleep, the muscles in the throat relax, and the airway, which brings oxygen to and from the lungs, narrows. Snoring is the fluttering sound created by the vibrations of tissues against each other in the back of the throat and nose. The issue often starts or gets worse when we age because of poor conditioning, excess weight, or other lifestyle factors that affect the throat and airway.
Every person snores on occasion, particularly during cold and allergy season. And, although we often think about snoring as a relatively benign problem, there are times when snoring is a signal that something serious is wrong. One red flag is when snoring doesn’t subside when the person shifts their sleeping position. Severe snoring is often the result of a condition called sleep apnea, in which breathing – and sleep – are actually interrupted, sometimes hundreds of times a night. Sometimes sleep apnea has a cycle of snoring where it appears that the person stops breathing for a moment and then has a gasp of breath, followed by continued snoring. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires medical attention. Everyone who has a severe snoring problem should consider a sleep apnea evaluation. The Jefferson Sleep Center is an excellent resource for this problem and other sleep and snoring issues.
Bob’s biggest issues were that he smoked about a pack of cigarettes per day- a habit he got into when he was learning his trade; he gained about 30 pounds since his high school football days; and he routinely had a beer or two before bedtime to help him “sleep better.” We enrolled him in our smoking cessation program and he signed up for one of our group fitness classes. With Brenda’s help, he also made some dietary changes. After about two months, Bob was sleeping better- and so was Brenda! Better yet, the lifestyle changes that helped him to decrease his snoring will also positively impact his health status across the board.
The severity of routine snoring depends on several factors, including the anatomy of the throat, and even what the snorer ate or drank that night. Sometimes making simple alterations in your routine or lifestyle can quickly solve your snoring problem. As always, the first step is to consult with your physician to make sure that nothing serious is going on. The following thirteen lifestyle steps have helped many snorers get the problem under control. For more information on sleep and snoring, refer the sleep section in our book, The Great Life Makeover.
13 Solutions for Snoring
1. Lose Weight: Excess weight and fatty tissue can cause your throat to narrow. If you are overweight, especially if you have a double (or triple) chin, losing weight can reduce or even eliminate snoring. If you lose 10 pounds, you will shrink your neck size by 1 inch, and that may help get your snoring under control.
2. Skip the Nightcap: Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles. If you tend to drink before bedtime, don’t! You’ll sleep more soundly, but make less noise.
3. Don’t Smoke: Smoking, or exposure to second hand smoke relaxes the throat muscles and also causes congestion in the nasal passages and lungs. If you smoke, you need to stop for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it contributes to snoring.
4. Avoid Antihistamines: If a stuffy nose is keeping you up, there are alternatives to antihistamines. I recommend an old-fashioned remedy that works extremely well – inhaling hot steam with eucalyptus. Just fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Toss in some eucalyptus oil or fresh eucalyptus leaves, and let it sit for a minute or two.
5. Sleep on Your Side: If you tend to snore when you sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side. If making that change is hard for you, try the old tennis ball trick. Sew a sock to the back of your pajama top. Put a tennis ball in the sock. Then go to sleep. If you attempt to lie on your back, pressure from the tennis ball will wake you. In time, you will naturally begin to sleep on your side, and the tennis ball will no longer be needed.
6. Avoid Sleeping Pills: I prescribe sleeping pills for some patients – but with caution if they snore, because these drugs relax throat muscles and may actually increase snoring.
7. Sleep on a Firm Pillow: Sleeping with a very soft pillow that doesn’t support your head can increase the angle of your neck, which in turn can force your tongue and jaw to fall backward in your throat. This will block your airway, causing you to snore. I’ve had mixed reviews from patients as to whether “anti-snoring” pillows that you see advertised on television work any better than a standard firm pillow. Some patients have reported good results from one or more of these pillows, but some have found them to be very uncomfortable. My best advice is to try out a few pillows for yourself and see if any of them work for you.
8. Elevate Your Bed: Elevate the head of your bed by about four inches. This position may make breathing easier, and it pushes your tongue and jaw forward. You can buy a foam wedge to put under the mattress, or you place rolled-up towels underneath the mattress so that the head of the bed is elevated. It’s better to elevate the entire head of the bed than to use several pillows to achieve the same elevation, because pillows can crimp the neck, which may actually contribute to snoring.
9. Avoid Heavy Meals at Night: Late-night eating promotes snoring because the process of digestion also relaxes the throat and tongue muscles. If you must eat, avoid high-fat dairy products, such as ice cream, before sleeping. Milk products can keep mucus from draining properly.
10. Avoid Spicy Foods at Night: Spicy foods can trigger indigestion, which could lead to snoring.
11. Get Some Exercise: Poor overall muscle tone and overly relaxed muscles contribute to snoring problems. Exercise will tone you – and the tissues that are involved in snoring – up. But remember that you should exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Working out any later could keep you up.
12. Learn to Play a Wind Instrument: Playing a wind instrument can help improve the muscle tone of the roof of your mouth and strengthen your upper airways. Studies have shown that playing one wind instrument in particular, the Australian didgeridoo, can be particularly helpful for people with respiratory problems, as well as those who snore. It may sound silly, but it really works. Although other wind instruments have not been studied, there is no reason to believe that they won’t work just as well.
13. Explore Over-the-Counter Options: Various over-the-counter products help minimize snoring. These include nasal sprays that moisten your nasal passages, anti-snoring throat sprays that lubricate and tone your throat muscles, chin strips that reposition your tongue and jaw to open your airways, and special pillows that force you to sleep on your side. Each tool will not work equally well for every person, but they have produced enough positive results that they are worth a try.
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Dr. Monti is Director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the author of “The Great Life Makeover.”