Snoring: Don’t sleep on the symptoms

Snoring is something that can affect anyone and is often accepted as a part of life. However, heavy snoring has been revealed as a key issue affecting sleep for Australians, with 14% experiencing it directly. 

Snoring may disturb your sleep, or your bed partner’s, but at what point does it move from an annoyance to a serious problem? 

What is snoring and why do people snore? 

Snoring is the vibration of tissues in your nose, mouth and throat while you sleep. When you breathe, you push air through your nasal passages, but any blockage in your airway can cause tissues in your soft palate, tonsils, adenoids, and tongue to rub against each other as the air moves through, which leads to the all-too-familiar snoring sounds.

A number of factors can contribute to snoring:

  • Weight: Fatty tissues around the neck and throat can place pressure on the airways, making breathing more difficult.
  • Anatomy: A deviated septum, nasal polyps, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils can all block the flow of air through your nasal passages and throat.
  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol or taking sedatives can make the muscles in the nose, mouth and throat slack, restricting airflow.
  • Age: As you get older, your muscle tone decreases, causing your airways to narrow and become weaker.
  • Nasal congestion: Having a stuffy nose due to a cold or allergies can reduce the flow of air and lead to snoring.
  • Smoking: Cigarettes are thought to cause inflammation in throat tissue which can result in nasal congestion.
  • Sleeping position: Lying on your back may cause the tongue and soft palate to pull downwards into your throat, obstructing airflow.
  • Family history: Snoring can be hereditary, and you’re more likely to snore if one or both of your parents do.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, hormonal changes lead to a build-up of fluids in the nasal passages, reducing space for breathing.
  • Medication: Certain medicines that relax your muscles can make snoring worse, for example, lorazepam for anxiety or diazepam for insomnia.
  • Mouth breathing: Difficulty breathing through the nose and relying on breathing through the mouth, can cause snoring, drooling and even a dry mouth.

When should you worry about snoring?

Snoring is very common – in fact, almost everyone snores at some point in their life, including babies and children. But if you snore on a nightly basis, it can affect your quality of sleep, leading to health problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And sleep deprivation may impact your wellbeing in other ways – from stress and lowered productivity to relationship issues.

Severe snoring may indicate Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), a condition that causes you to temporarily stop breathing while you sleep. OSA is marked by loud snoring and periods of silence as breathing pauses, often followed by choking, snorting, or gasping sounds.

OSA affects 6% of the Australian population, with serious health consequences such as high blood pressure, and increased risk of a heart attack and stroke. 

Frequency and intensity 

People with sleep apnoea often wake frequently during the night. They have brief interruptions to breathing throughout their sleep – these may happen as often as 20 or 30 times an hour. When this happens, there is a drop in the oxygen levels in the blood and the brain jolts you out of sleep so that you will start breathing again. 

Daytime symptoms 

Because sleep apnoea prevents people from getting deep, restful sleep, it causes fatigue during the day. If you always feel tired and irritable or keep falling asleep during the day, these could be symptoms of OSA. You may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. Other signs include waking up in the morning with a dry mouth, sore throat, or headache.

Not getting a good night’s sleep can have significant consequences on your daily output – 31% of employed Australians believe that the quantity and quality of their sleep affects their work performance.

Partner's observations 

Many people aren’t aware that they snore at night, or don’t realise the extent of their snoring. For example, 26% of Australians in relationships state that their partner’s sleep-related difficulties sometimes keep them awake.

If you have sleep apnoea, you may not know unless the blockage is so bad that you wake up gasping or choking. Your bed partner is often the key to identifying whether you have OSA, as they can observe if you stop breathing, cough, or struggle for air.

Remedies and treatment options for snoring 

Wondering how to stop snoring? The good news is, there are plenty of snoring solutions you can try – from simple lifestyle changes to medical surgeries. 

Lifestyle changes 

  • Lose excess weight, as reducing tissue mass in the mouth, tongue and neck can ease pressure on your airways. 
  • Limit alcohol intake, avoiding it at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Speak to your doctor about your snoring when being prescribed sedatives to discuss alternatives.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule and try to make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of shuteye every night.
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back. If you always end up on your back, try using a full-length body pillow to give your body the support it needs to stay put.
  • Use an anti-snore pillow, such as a wedge-shaped pillow, which can help keep your head raised, while supporting your neck and shoulders.
  • Quit smoking to reduce inflammation and improve your breathing to not only reduce snoring but also for other health benefits.

Home remedies 

  • Non-surgical snoring remedies can open your airways and improve your sleep posture, including:
  • Anti-snoring mouth guard – an oral device that keeps your jaw and tongue in the proper position to allow air to flow freely.
  • Nasal strips – flexible bands that stick to the outside of your nose to help keep your nasal passages open.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – a pump connected to a mask which blows air into your nose or mouth while sleeping.
  • Cold and allergy medications like steroid spray can help relieve nasal congestion.

Medical interventions 

In certain cases where a structural defect in your airway is causing severe snoring, doctors may recommend surgery. For example:

  • Septoplasty – reshapes the cartilage and bone to improve airflow through your nose if you have a deviated septum.
  • Tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy – removes excess tissue from the back of your throat or nose if you have enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
  • Uvulopalatoplasty – reduces tissue in your soft palate to create more space for the upper airway.

When to seek professional help 

If you snore often or heavily, and it impacts your quality of life or physical health, or your partner hears you stop breathing during the night, then you should talk to your doctor. To diagnose sleep apnoea, they will first examine your nose and mouth to check for any physical obstruction. 

They may also recommend a sleep study which evaluates your brain wave activity, breathing patterns, heart rate and oxygen levels, and movements during sleep. You might be able to do this at home or it may involve spending the night at a sleep study centre.

Sleep easy   

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your lifestyle and wellbeing, consider checking out Real Health Insurance and get a quote today. With peace of mind, you’ll be one step closer to getting a better night’s sleep!