According to sleep expert Dr Alison Bentley from Restonic (a furniture manufacturer), snoring is not considered normal.
“It suggests that there is some kind of blockage in the breathing process that occurs only during sleep.
“This blockage causes the airflow to become turbulent and the palate or uvula (a small tongue-like structure in the back of the mouth) to vibrate,” she says.
According to her, the noise we hear as snoring is a result of these vibrations combined with having the mouth slightly open. The blockage can occur in different parts of the nose or throat.
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Reasons for snoring
There are multiple factors that can contribute to snoring.
“As we age, the throat lining tends to become more relaxed and floppy, increasing the chances of snoring.
“In fact, the number of people who snore tends to rise after the age of 40 in men and after the age of 50 in women (particularly due to menopause),” she adds.
Aside from age, there are other common factors associated with snoring.
She says these include blockages in the nasal passages, palate and throat, as well as issues related to the position of the jaw and tongue.
“Weight gain and the reflux of stomach acid are also often linked to snoring.”
Nose, palate and throat issues
Dr Bentley says a significant number of individuals who snore experience difficulties caused by a nasal blockage.
“Many people who snore have a problem with a blockage in their nose, which could be due to a deviated septum, a general irritation causing a swollen lining of the nose, polyps or enlarged adenoids.
“Some of these conditions may need surgery, while others can be treated with appropriate nasal sprays, which may need to be used long-term,” said Dr Bentley.
Tonsils are often responsible for causing a throat obstruction, which is a significant contributing factor to snoring.
“These are no longer routinely taken out in early childhood, so many more children grow up with their tonsils.
“If the tonsils become enlarged, they can swivel back during sleep to cause an obstruction. In children, snoring is never normal and removal of the tonsils and adenoids resolves the snoring in 95% of children,” said Dr Bentley.
Dr Bentley explains that since the snoring noise is typically produced by the end of the palate, there is sometimes a desire to consider surgical removal of this structure.
Although this can reduce the noise itself, the surgery needs to be undertaken with caution.
“The palate is responsible for some very important functions, such as closing off the back of the nose during swallowing and creating our unique speech and surgery may interfere with these normal and useful functions,” she advised.
The role of the jaw and tongue
According to Dr Bentley, when individuals with snoring issues lie on their back, the jaw and tongue become significant factors contributing to the problem.
“In that position, gravity moves the jaw back, narrowing the airway. This type of obstruction can be managed by preventing the sleeper from lying on their back (such as a creating a pocket in the pyjama top / t-shirt between the shoulder blades and inserting a small ball in there) or using a snore mouthpiece to stabilise the jaw.
“Your bed could also be making your snoring worse. If your mattress (and / or your pillow) doesn’t offer the correct spinal support, it affects the angle of your head, neck, and airway, which can increase the likelihood of snoring,” explained Dr Bentley.
Dale Harley, Restonic Marketing Executive, says that there are multiple indications suggesting that your bed has surpassed its optimal condition.
These signs include noticeable sagging, creaking and squeaking noises, as well as waking up with discomfort and body aches.
“If your snoring is noticeably less severe when sleeping on a different bed or with a different pillow, it’s worth investigating the option of a better bed to properly support your spine,” suggested Harley.
Weight and snoring
“Weight gain is often a cause of snoring, especially in men, who are prone to putting on weight around the neck and chest area.
“Extra weight in these areas directly narrows the airway making it harder to breathe in. Losing even a few kilograms can help to reduce snoring,” said Dr Bentley.
An often-ignored cause of snoring is reflux of stomach contents. These make their way up into the back of the throat causing swelling of the back of the tongue.
“During the day, gravity keeps the contents of the stomach in place, but lying down removes that force (particularly after a large meal close to bedtime or after eating spicy foods).
“Moving the evening meal to at least three hours before bedtime and possibly taking a small dose of antacid before going to sleep may reduce snoring caused by reflux,” said Dr Bentley.
When to be concerned
Dr Bentley cautions that while snoring is often perceived as mere noise pollution, it is crucial to acknowledge that it can also serve as an indication of a more serious condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
“This is when your upper airway partially or totally collapses, affecting your ability to breathe and to get enough oxygen.
“If your snoring is associated with daytime tiredness, catches or pauses in the breathing at night or high blood pressure, you should speak to your doctor about possible apnoea.
“This is a serious medical disorder that can cause long-term medical problems and requires professional treatment,” concluded Dr Bentley.