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While you’re sleeping, your throat muscles relax. If they’re particularly loose, your airways are obstructed, or you lie in an awkward position, your inhalation and exhalation can cause those muscles to vibrate, producing a deep fluttering noise known as a snore. Accordingly, the process of generating this noise is known as snoring. And when someone who snores shares a bedroom, the noise can be irritating to everyone else present — even disrupting their sleep. Treating the snoring can help everyone sleep more soundly.

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Advice for Snoring

What is snoring and what causes it?

During deep sleep, muscles throughout your body relax. This helps them to heal and grow, reduces energy expenditure, and limits movement that could be dangerous. When the muscles in your throat relax, they can obstruct your airway. Each breath you take will then need to push past that tissue, causing it to vibrate and make a loud noise called a snore.

Though humans all have essentially the same sleep process, many people don’t snore regularly (or ever). So why is it so variable? There are three key factors determining any given person’s likelihood to snore: the extent of their muscle relaxation, the unique anatomy of their respiratory system, and the position (or positions) in which they sleep:

  1. If your throat muscles relax to an extreme extent, they’ll surely obstruct your air passage and lead to some noise (light, moderate, or severe) being generated when you breathe. This may stem from sleep deprivation or overuse of muscle relaxants (including alcohol).
  2. If you naturally have a narrow airway or suffer from an issue that can impact your breathing, you can regularly snore (rhinitis can clog your nose, an off-centre nasal septum can limit the passage of air, gaining weight can produce extra throat tissue, etc.).
  3. If you always sleep on your back, the tissue at the top of your mouth is constantly pulled down into your throat, potentially presenting an obstacle and creating noise. Sleeping in another position can make a huge difference.

What are the symptoms of snoring?

Snoring itself is easy to notice, as it’s only as significant as the extent to which it distracts or annoys people nearby. It’s also innately harmless outside of interpersonal woes: someone who only ever sleeps alone doesn’t need to care about the noise they make breathing while asleep.

With that said, snoring can be worthy of further investigation if it stems from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – a sleep disorder that involves the throat completely (or almost completely) closing up at times throughout the night. OSA can prevent a sufferer from sleeping properly and even cause them harm during the night. If your snoring is indicative of OSA, it’ll likely be accompanied by at least some of the following symptoms:

  • Loud but inconsistent snoring. An OSA sufferer will often go through loud and quiet periods of snoring through the night, with their breathing becoming shallow at times. Someone who snores without OSA is more likely to snore at an even level throughout.
  • Headaches and/or a sore throat after waking up. Being unable to breathe at points during the night can cause significant throat discomfort and a headache in the morning.
  • Chest pain and/or difficulty breathing during the night. OSA can strike while you’re still partially awake, and leave you struggling to breathe and suffering from chest pain if you’re prone to waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Heavily-disrupted sleep. If you keep waking up during the night and can’t attribute it to anything obvious (such as anxiety, stress, or a poor diet), it may be that you’re suffering from OSA and keep waking up because you can’t breathe properly.
  • Elevated blood pressure. When OSA prevents you from breathing normally, your blood pressure will increase in an effort to get more oxygen around your body. If it happens frequently enough, the elevated blood pressure can persist throughout the day.

If you really want to know if you’re snoring but always sleep alone, you can leave a recording device (most conveniently your phone) running overnight and listen to the file in the morning. If it’s bad enough that you suspect OSA, you can pass that recording to a medical professional.

How can I treat snoring?

You treat snoring by taking action to prevent it, and there are various things that may be worth trying (depending on your circumstances). Here’s a short list of snoring solutions:

  • Use an anti-snoring throat spray. There treatments work through lubricating your throat and coating your throat muscles to limit their vibration (and thus the noise levels they can produce through snoring).
  • Reduce your use of muscle relaxants. There are many things you can consume that will relax your muscles and allow them to make more noise through snoring, ranging from cigarettes and alcohol to medicinal painkillers. If you’re relying on muscle relaxants, try to use them less frequently.
  • Change your sleeping position(s). If you’re used to sleeping on your back, try getting into the habit of sleeping on your side. It’ll take some time to get used to it, but if you can make it work, you’ll ultimately snore less (or at least snore more quietly).
  • Lose some weight. As noted earlier, weight gain can add tissue to the back of the throat, leading to greater vibrations. Losing that weight can clear the airway and make it easier to sleep more quietly and more soundly.

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