When you sleep, the muscles in your tongue, throat, and soft palate (the roof of your mouth) all relax. Snoring is the hoarse or unmelodious sound that occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in the throat, causing rattling and vibration of these tissues as you breathe, due to the obstructed air movement.
Of the 67 percent who snore, the majority is palatal flutter, or vibration of the soft palate.
Nose Breathing Versus Mouth Breathing
We should be breathing through the nose.
Nitric oxide is created in the nasal cavity and has a positive effect on the respiratory system, which leads to better oxygenated tissues as it actually dilates the blood vessels throughout the body.
Nitric oxide occurs naturally in the body and gets into the bloodstream through nutrient-rich foods and by nasal breathing. As you age, the body will produce less.
Nitric oxide produced through nasal breathing not only improves heart function and blood pressure, but also helps the immune system, cognitive function, and decreases inflammation. Nitric oxide aids in weight loss, improves digestion, decreases anxiety and depression, and decreases neuropathic pain.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, decreases nitric oxide and leads to poor heart function, an increase in blood pressure, lowered cognitive function, poor immunity, and a higher rate of chronic inflammation in the body.
Causes of Snoring
Also, sedative medications and alcohol can relax the muscles that support your airway and make you more likely to snore, while a high BMI and neck size are also implicated.
If you have a small jaw, large tongue or tonsils, growths such as polyps in the nose, or a deviated septum, these anatomical abnormalities can increase the odds for snoring. Allergies, infection, and dry air can also cause your nose to become stuffy, obstructing the airway and increasing the likelihood of snoring.
Lying on your back can make you more apt to snore as gravity can cause the tissue around your airway to drop down and be narrowed. Muscles weaken with age, including the ones in and around your mouth and airway. This weakness can contribute to snoring.
Extra tissue caused by excess weight around the neck can constrict your airway and make it more likely that you snore. Possibly due to genetics, some people are prone to depositing fat inside their tongue itself and in other structures around the throat. The result is that the tongue and these other structures become enlarged and are more likely to narrow the space for breathing, thus contributing to turbulent airflow through the throat.
When the thyroid gland doesn’t function to its full capacity and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), this can lead to a variety of health issues, including a higher risk for snoring, while cigarette smoke can irritate and inflame the upper airway, and also contribute.
Waking up with bad breath in the morning may be because of snoring since when one snores, one is breathing with the mouth open, thereby causing dry mouth. With a dry mouth, there is no protective layer of saliva to moisten the tissues in your mouth. Besides bad breath, dry mouth itself can lead to more bacteria buildup, infections and sores, yeast infection (thrush), and tooth decay.
Snoring is an obvious irritant to one’s sleeping partner.
There are some self-help procedures that may reduce snoring apart from the professional approaches.
How to Reduce Snoring
In order to see if anything has changed when trying these measures, there is a snore app that one can use to record snoring. One would place the phone in the same place in the bedroom each night to determine if anything has changed.
One can start with nasal hygiene to see if it helps.
There are also over-the-counter nasal anti-snoring devices. Nasal dilators for snoring work by helping to open the entrance of the nasal passages to allow for greater airflow. Also, nasal irrigators can wash the nasal passages with powered suction to flush out allergens, bacteria, and mucus.
Myofunctional therapy exercises can help with snoring.
There are also some oropharyngeal exercises for snoring and sleep apnea:
- Push out the tongue three times for about five seconds or push a spoon in this manner with the tongue.
- Then put the tongue to the roof of the mouth for five seconds. One can open the mouth at the same time to stretch even more. If you pull the tongue up like this, you can feel it stretching in the back of your throat.
- Now push the tongue left and right into your cheek. Then to increase resistance, push against the tongue with your fingers outside on the cheeks. Now drop the tongue down.
- Close the mouth and push the tongue against the front teeth—and swallow.
As mentioned in a previous article on tooth grinding, one can use a mandibular advancement device (MAD) that gently holds your lower jaw slightly forward while you sleep. These devices are adjustable and give a little more room for the tongue to help maintain a clear airway while you sleep. One can gradually move the lower jaw forward incrementally until the optimum position is reached.
There is a dental non-surgical treatment for snoring that uses a 9.3 μm CO2 laser held at 1.5 cm from the tissues. This delivers sub-ablative energy to contract the collagen in the lamina propria layer in the epidermis, which is 50 to 150 microns deep in the epidermis.
Collagen in this layer is heated to 60’C (140’F) which causes contraction of the collagen fibers and then breaks down to form new collagen. This can usually be achieved without anesthetic, although topical anesthesia can be used if there is discomfort. It takes about 15 minutes for each treatment.
The second treatment appointment is between 28 and 30 days later, with a third later if necessary. Treatment typically lasts eight months to two years. Those with excessive weight may not be helped with this treatment.
Uvulo palato pharyngoplasty (UPPP) is the surgical excision, or modification of excessive mucosa of the soft palate and the uvula. The uvula, tonsils, and the posterior surface of the soft palate are removed. This is considered to be a rather painful procedure and it requires some recovery time. Thus, it would not be considered the first treatment option.
UPPP is more likely to be used for sleep apnea. Snoring is closely related to sleep apnea, which is a more serious condition where one stops breathing periodically during the night. We can talk about that next. The definitive diagnosis takes the form of a sleep test, but the “Berlin questionnaire” or the “STOP-Bang Questionnaire” may give some indications for sleep apnea.
Snoring in adults or in children should not be considered normal. There are treatment options available for helping those who have this condition.
Epoch Health articles are for informational purposes and are not a substitute for individualized medical advice. Please consult a trusted professional for personal medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. Have a question? Email us at [email protected]