While snoring is a part of life for many, it can be annoying or disrupting — or it can even indicate a more serious problem that needs medical intervention. With that being said, why do we snore anyway? And is there anything we can do to help? Lastly, when does snoring indicate a potential medical problem? Let's take a look into the ins and outs of a snoring human being.
You know how "sawing logs" sounds — grunting, wheezing, whistling, snorting and rattling breaths that emanate from the mouth and nose as one snoozes away. But what is the physiological reason for snoring? That is, what exactly makes a snore?
We checked with Dr. Michael Gelb, director of The Gelb Center, and he was able to get us the 411 on snoring. "Snoring is a sound caused by a narrowing of the airway from the nose down to the throat," says Gelb. "People snore as they fall asleep and the jaw and throat muscles relax. Gravity and loss of protective reflexes allow collapse of the airway."
In addition, he says that some people may have sucked their thumbs or a pacifier when they were toddlers, which pushes the soft palate up toward their nose. Other causes can include narrow airways (either present at birth or due to rhinoplasty), a deviated septum, hormonal changes and those whose noses tend to congest when they lay back at night.
Snoring can disrupt sleep — not just for those around them, but for those who snore as well. According to Gelb, fragmented sleep can affect concentration and focus and has been associated with the beginning of cardiovascular issues. Kids can be affected too — snoring and mouth breathing have been linked to neurocognitive and neurobehavioral disorders.
Now that we know what causes snoring, how in the heck can we get it to stop? According to the National Institute on Aging, losing weight can help — but they do note that thin people can totally snore too, and if you're not overweight, you should not go that route at all.
Also, cutting down or avoiding other sedatives at bedtime may work as well. These can slow your breathing and relax your tissues, which can contribute to snoring.
In addition, try to avoid sleeping flat on your back. There are a number of ways you can do that, and it involves the prevention of rolling over, which you sometimes do in your sleep and can't really control. Some suggest attaching a tennis ball to your back in some fashion (such as in a custom-sewed pocket on the back of your pajama top), because nobody wants to sleep on a hard, round ball.
Another idea is to raise the head of your bed by four to six inches. Put bricks or other solid objects under the legs of the bed, which can keep your tongue from falling backward and restricting your airway.
While some snoring is relatively harmless, there are some snoring situations that warrant a visit to a professional. One of the biggest problems is sleep apnea or hypopnea.
"[When] the patient is awakening with gasping for air and rapid beating of the heart, a physician or sleep specialist should be consulted and a sleep study ordered," notes Gelb. In addition, a specialized dentist can evaluate your airway, breathing and sleep and work with you to get a handle on the problem and look into treatment, such as nasal dilators/stents such as Mute or CPAP machines — or even surgery.
Snoring can be disruptive, but there are indeed a few things you can do if you (or your loved ones) suffer. Try our tips above to see if you can't get a handle on the snoring yourself or go see a specialist if you feel your snoring may be dangerous to your health. Fortunately, for those who snore and those who listen to it, there are options.
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