When you snore, structures in the mouth and throat—the tongue, upper throat, soft palate, and uvula—vibrate against the tonsils and adenoids. There are many possible causes. Overweight people are more likely to snore, and experts think it’s because the extra fatty tissue compresses the air passages.
Drinking alcohol before bedtime is another factor: It causes throat muscles to relax and tissues to sag. And whenever you have nasal congestion from a cold or allergies, you’re more likely to snore, because inflamed tissues and extra mucus interfere with airflow.
Tricks to Prevent Snoring
Try the following preventive measures to reduce or eliminate snoring. Changing your sleeping position may be all it takes, but a larger project—namely, losing weight—is often the real ticket to tranquil nights.
• Buy yourself a few extra pillows and prop yourself up in bed, rather than lying flat on your back. You’ll prevent the tissues in your throat from falling into your air passages.
• Elevate the head of your bed. An easy way to do it is to place several flat boards under the legs at the top end of the bed. A couple of short lengths of two-by-eights or two-by-tens under each leg should raise the bed enough to do the trick.
• Sleep on your side. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll stay in that position, but at least start on your side with your arms wrapped around a pillow. There’s a good reason you don’t want to sleep on your back: In that position, your tongue and soft palate rest against the back of your throat, blocking the airway.
• If hugging a pillow doesn’t help, you can ace the problem with service from a sewn-in tennis ball. Here’s how: Sew a little pouch on the back of your pajama top and tuck a tennis ball inside. At night, if you start to roll on your back while you’re sleeping, you’ll get a nudge from that tennis ball, prompting you to get back on your side.
• If nasal congestion is causing your snoring, take a decongestant or antihistamine before you turn in.
• Tape your nose open with nasal strips, available at most drugstores. They may look odd, but who’s watching? Following the directions on the package, tape one of the strips to the outside of your nose before you fall asleep. They’ll lift and open your nostrils to increase airflow.
• Gargle with a peppermint mouthwash to shrink the lining of your nose and throat. This is especially effective if your snoring is a temporary condition caused by a head cold or an allergy. To mix up the herbal gargle, add one drop of peppermint oil to a glass of cold water. (But only gargle—do not swallow.)
• It sounds extreme, but some people have used a neck brace—the kind people with whiplash wear—to stop their snoring. It works by keeping your chin extended so your throat doesn’t bend and your airway stays open. You don’t have to use a stiff plastic brace, however. A soft foam one, available at drugstores or medical supply stores, is less restraining and will work just as well.
• Reduce bedroom allergens (dust, pet dander, mold) to alleviate nasal stuffiness by vacuuming floors and drapes. Change sheets and pillowcases often.
• If your snoring is a seasonal problem—and you know you’re allergic to pollen—try drinking up to three cups of tea made from the herb stinging nettle. Herbalists recommend it for soothing inflammation caused by pollen allergies. To make the tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 tablespoon of the dried leaf (available in health-food stores). Cover the tea and let it steep for 5 minutes. Strain and drink. Drink one cup of tea just before bedtime.
• Don’t eat a heavy meal within three hours of turning in. It can cause your throat muscles to relax more than normal.
• Snoring improves as you shed some weight. Losing 10 percent of your body weight can help by easing constriction of the upper airway.
• Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates mucous membranes, so your throat swells, narrowing the airway. Smokers also have more problems with nasal congestion.
• If you’re regularly taking any kind of medication, talk to your doctor about alternatives. Some drugs can make snoring worse, including sleeping pills and sedatives.
• Dry air can contribute to snoring. There are lots of ways to do battle with dry air. A humidifier or steam vaporizer in the bedroom can keep your air passages moist; just be sure to clean it regularly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Another approach: Just before bedtime, fill a bowl with hot water, drape a towel over your head, bend over the bowl so your nose is roughly 15 centimeters from the water, and breathe deeply through your nose for a few minutes.
A Short Course in Snoring Self-Defense
If you’re living with someone who snores, there’s a better than even chance the nightly sonorities are fraying your relationship. But remember, other spouses and partners have dealt with this too—and survived. So before you head for the hills, consider some practical methods to deal with the rumblings of your otherwise lovable bedmate.
• Buy yourself a pair of earplugs. They are inexpensive and quite comfortable, once you get accustomed to them.
• A white-noise machine can make nights with a snorer more bearable. These electronic devices produce a consistent sound that muffles other noises.
• Turn in well before your snoring spouse. That way, at least, you have a head start on a good night’s sleep.
When to See the Doctor About Snoring
Loud, excessive snoring can signal sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition that requires treatment. Contact your doctor if you’re a loud snorer who stops breathing for short periods when you’re asleep. You should also notify the doctor if you sometimes wake up gasping for breath, if you wake up with headaches, or if you’re sleepy during the day.
Sleep apnea can reduce levels of oxygen in the blood, eventually leading to elevated blood pressure and an enlarged heart. In addition to lifestyle modifications (losing weight or changing your sleeping position), some doctors sometimes recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for nightly use. Surgery is also possible.