“Turn over or something, please!”
“I can’t sleep!”
If you’ve heard any of those phrases said to or shouted at you upon your first waking breath, that means your non-waking breaths aren’t your best breaths. Rather, they are snores. Loud, nose-gargling, how-can-you-stay-asleep-through-this-noise snores.
You’re in “good” company. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Otolaryngology, snoring occurs in roughly 57% of adult men and 40% of women. Roughly 25% of these folks are considered habitual snorers. And kids are not immune, either. Up to 12% of children also snore.
So, let’s deep dive the causes of snoring, the effects of snoring, and what with the help of your doctor and dentist you can do about snoring.
Causes of Snoring
According to Mayo Clinic, there are a number of reasons and risk factors to why people snore excessively. They include:
- Anatomy—Narrow airway due to a low, thick, soft palate, elongated uvula, or large tonsils.
- Sleep position—Your airway can change per sleeping position, such as on your back with a flat pillow or no pillow.
- Body weight—Obesity or being overweight can cause you to have more tissue around the throat, narrowing you airway.
- Congestion—Chronic nasal congestion can obstruct airflow.
- Chemistry—Alcohol or tobacco can relax muscles in the throat and block airways.
- Gender—Men snore more than women; although pregnant women are common snorers.
- Age—People 40 years of age or older snore more than younger people
Effects of Snoring
The most common effect of snoring is waking up with dry mouth. It sounds minor. But over a long time, think about the damage it can cause. Your mouth is dry because you’ve been sleeping with it open. And that means several hours of bacteria living in your mouth free from the saliva of your mouth that prevents them from eating away at your teeth.
For this reason alone, you should be vigilant about brushing and flossing your teeth before bedtime. It’s the first and strongest line of defense against preventing the tooth decay and gum disease that can result from “just a little bit of dry mouth.”
What’s also important to know—or for your sleep partner to know—is when snoring is more than “just some loud snoring.” You should ask your sleep partner who’s reporting to you about your snoring to pay attention to how you’re snoring. Someone with a case of sleep apnea sounds different than a person who’s just snoring. Basically, the sleep apnea person is experiencing a blockage of airflow that makes them stop breathing. This is a potentially serious condition that needs medical attention.
According to the Sleep Foundation, up to 9% of adults live sleep apnea. Episodes involving a complete loss of airflow are called apneas, and episodes with reduced airflow are known as hypopneas.
Snoring and What You Can Do About It
First let’s look at some simple things you can try to reduce snoring. Losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedative medications at night, and always sleeping on your back are three of those things. Since a congested nose impacts snoring levels, check with your pharmacist about using decongestants.
But you may need to consult with your doctor, too. Doctors with the help of sleep specialists can evaluate you for sleep apnea. Your doctor will examine your nose and mouth to check for any physical obstructions, nasal polyps, a high or narrow arched palate, a displaced jaw, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. A sleep specialist will conduct a sleep study and monitor you while you sleep at their lab. Along with your doctor, they’ll go over your results and make recommendations for better quality sleep.
Often the suggestion is to use what’s called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This therapy uses a machine to help a person breathe more easily during sleep. The machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in.
Less intrusive solutions that can alleviate snoring for people whose tongues tend to fall in the back of their throat when they sleep include anti-snoring mouthguards and tongue-retaining devices, which form a seal around the tongue and hold it in place. Slightly more intrusive are mandibular advancement devices, which move the tongue and jaw forward so you can have maximum airflow.
Sometimes, the ultimate intrusive solution—surgery—may be advised by your healthcare team. This procedure is called an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. It involves removing the patient’s uvula, palate, and pharyngeal walls to create more airway space.
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