When I was in high school, I had a cute country boy over. We were making out on the couch downstairs when he suddenly perked up his ears. “Is it storming outside?” he asked. “I should get home” (curse those dirt roads). I told him I heard nothing, but he insisted he heard rolling thunder. “Listen,” he said. I paused. There was certainly a rumble, but it wasn’t thunder. It was my father snoring. In his closed bedroom. Two floors above us. Needless to say, it ruined the moment.
My dad’s snoring was a thing of legends. We once went on a family vacation on which my brother and I shared a room with my parents. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of our neighbors pounding on the wall and my brother sleeping in the car. My mom and dad snored away, soundly.
Snoring is never appealing. It is estimated that 45% of North Americans snore from time to time, while 25% are chronic snorers. It is a trait more common in men, although women (usually the partners of the chronic snorers) are said to suffer from it occasionally as well. We all know what kind of social stigma is attached to snoring. It’s a funny story, mildly embarrassing for the snorer, but one they have to endure to make up for the hours of sleepless nights they inflict on their bed partners.
Apart from the mental and slumber-health of your partner, however, the degree to and manner in which you snore may point to bigger health problems that you are ignoring.
The basic definition of snoring is the forced passage of air through a small airway, causing the tissue around it to vibrate. Using scientific analysis, and well, logic, we can say that the smaller the airway, the harder one must force the air, therefore, and the louder the snore.
There are several anatomical features of the nasal and throat passages that can lead to snoring. In your throat, you have the choice of a low-set or thick soft palate (the roof of your mouth), enlarged adenoids (the soft flesh just behind the ridges on the roof of your mouth), enlarged tonsils, or a large or deformed uvula (get your mind out of the gutter: it’s that hangy-down thing at the back of your throat). These tissues and apparatuses are all fleshy, and when relaxed, can cause a shrunken airway.
Often, people who snore can also be affected by some nasal blockages as well. They might have swollen sinuses, nasal blockages, or even a deviated septum (a crooked partition between the two nostrils). These blockages could be caused by any number of reasons, including illness or allergies. If airflow is limited through the nose, however, one is forced to breathe more forcefully through their mouth, where the fleshy parts sing their song.
Aside from enlarged anatomy for reasons of infection or simply nature, there are some other lifestyle choices, and some life situations, which promote snoring. In the category of lifestyle choices, a major contributor to snoring is your health. If you are overweight, there is a better chance that you are going to snore.
The reason for this is simple: when you are overweight, you gain weight everywhere, and that includes in the soft tissues of your throat. The more flesh you have in your throat, the more restricted the airway. Another factor in the fleshiness of your throat tissue is age. Just like the elasticity in the rest of your body, your throat will lose some of its bounce-back as you age.
Aligned with your health, smoking, alcohol and certain drugs will heighten your snoring levels considerably. Drugs, such as alcohol and tranquilizers, relax your throat so much that they start flabbing and vibrating in the wind, more so than they might if you were in a normal sleep. Smoking just makes any attempt to breathe more difficult, awake or asleep.
Snoring can affect your health in two ways. The first is a general disruption of healthy, REM cycle sleep. Some people snore so loudly that they will periodically wake themselves up throughout the night. This interrupted sleep can have long-term affect on your well-being, not to mention on your daily alertness. Related to this, if you keep waking up your bed partner, there is a good chance you are going to end up with bruises from elbows in the ribs and the occasional pillow hovering above your face. Second, snoring can be a symptom of a more serious sleep disorder: sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is an advanced form of snoring in which the tissues in your throat become so relaxed or enlarged that they actually close for periods of time, effectively stopping your breathing altogether. Because the halt in breathing stops the elimination of CO in your blood, your brain waked you up momentarily to kick-start you into breathing. Imagine waking up every time you are supposed to take a breath throughout the night, and then imagine what that is doing to your ability to rejuvenate your body. Various studies have been done on sleep apnea, and it is believed that those who suffer from this condition also run a higher risk of suffering from heart attacks.
Sleep apnea can be diagnosed a few ways. One way is to have your partner listen to your breathing patterns when you sleep and see if you stop breathing at any time (having slept in a room with someone with sleep apnea, it’s terrible to say, but when they re-start breathing with a ripping snore, it sometimes feels like a bit of a mixed blessing). The only way to get a medical diagnosis for sleep apnea is to visit a sleep clinic and allow yourself to be monitored for a night.
Starting with the mildest treatments for snoring, one of the best things you can do is start eating properly, quit smoking, and lose weight. This is the cheapest way, and will also give you the most well-rounded health boost. If you are snoring because of allergies, take medication or nasal spray, but do not get hooked on it for the long tem, as its effectiveness will dwindle the longer you use it.
There are some surgeries which will remove excess tissue from your throat providing a larger air way for your breath to pass through. One is a low-risk laser surgery called laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP), which is done under local anaesthetic, and which consists of the removal of excess tissue from the soft palate and uvula with a small laser.
You may want to consider having your tonsils or adenoids removed, or having X-rays to check your jaw bone for deformities.
If you are a renowned snorer, take steps in your lifestyle to alleviate your thunderous intrusions, but make sure at the same time that the snoring does not progress to a point of apnea, a much more complex problem, and one with more serious health risks.