Snoring is a sound made in the upper airway of your throat as you sleep. It normally occurs as you breathe in air. It is a sign that your airway is being partially blocked.
The sound is made as the flow of air causes tissue in the back of your throat to vibrate. The sound can come through the nose, the mouth, or both the nose and mouth.
It can occur during any stage of sleep. For people who snore regularly, it is most common in the REM and slow-wave stages of sleep.
Some people snore much more loudly than others. You may even snore loud enough to wake yourself up. Your snoring is sure to disturb your bed partner’s sleep. It may cause you to have a dry mouth or an irritated throat when you wake up.
About one-half of people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA happens when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses to block the entire airway. This keeps air from getting in to the lungs. It occurs because the muscles inside the throat relax as you sleep. Gravity then causes the tongue to fall back and block the airway. It can happen a few times a night or several hundred times per night.
Light snoring may not disrupt your overall quality of sleep. But many people with severe snoring and OSA are sleepy during the day. They find that they are still tired even after a nap.
When you stop breathing, your body wakes up. It happens so quickly, you aren’t even aware of it. This disrupts your sleep process. If this occurs hundreds of times in one night, you will feel very tired the next day.
Who gets it?
Almost everyone is likely to snore at one time or another. It has been found in all age groups. Estimates of snoring vary widely based on how it is defined.
The rate of snoring in children is reported to be 10% to 12%. Habitual snoring has been found in about 24% of adult women and 40% of adult men. Both men and women are more likely to snore as they age. Men, however, become less likely to snore after the age of 70.
Snoring is more common in people who are overweight. There is a greater amount of fat in the back of the throat that vibrates as they sleep. Nasal obstruction raises the risk of snoring. It has also been shown to increase during pregnancy. Snoring appears to run in families.
Your likelihood of snoring may also increase with the following present factors:
- Drinking alcohol
- Using muscle relaxers
- Using drugs
How do I know if I have it?
It is hard for you to know on your own. You will need a bed partner or someone else who hears you to tell you that you snore. Snoring should not disturb the quality of your sleep. If you tend to be very sleepy during the day, then your snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.
Do I need to see a sleep specialist?
You will want to see a sleep specialist if you snore regularly or loudly. Even if you snore less loudly, you may want to see a specialist if you find yourself awake at night or sleepy during the day.
People who snore have a higher rate of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Snoring can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA raises your risk of having heart problems.
What will the doctor need to know?
The doctor will need to know how long you have been snoring. He or she will also want to know if it began when you gained weight or stopped exercising. Get information from those who sleep with you or have seen you sleep. This includes spouses, relatives, friends, teammates and roommates.
You will also need to provide a complete medical history. Be sure to inform your doctor of any past or present drug and medication use. Also tell him or her if you have ever had any other sleep disorder.
You will also want to keep a sleep diary for two weeks. The sleep diary will help the doctor see your sleeping patterns. This information gives the doctor clues about what is causing your problem and how to correct it.
Will I need to take any tests?
Your doctor may have you do an overnight sleep study if he thinks that your snoring is a problem. This study is called a polysomnogram. It will chart your brain waves, heart beat, and breathing as you sleep. It will also record how your arms and legs move. This study should clearly show if you have sleep apnea.
How is it treated?
The treatment you need depends on whether you have simple snoring or snoring with sleep apnea. If you do have sleep apnea, then your treatment will also depend on the severity of your problem. Apnea is more serious when it causes daytime sleepiness or is related to a known heart problem. It requires close monitoring of your treatment.
Your treatment may also depend on other medical factors. Your doctor will be able to decide which treatment is best for you.
The following are treatment options for snoring and sleep apnea:
- Weight loss
Weight loss will decrease the severity of snoring or apnea. It should be a priority for any overweight person with OSA. Not all people with snoring or apnea are overweight. But weight gain will make existing snoring or apnea even worse. Weight loss alone may help some but not all people with snoring or apnea.
- Positional therapy
This involves sleeping on your side instead of on your back. It may help some but not all people with snoring or apnea.
- Avoiding alcohol, muscle relaxants, and certain medications
These substances are known to increase snoring and apnea.
- Oral appliances
An oral appliance looks like a retainer or a sports mouth guard. It keeps the airway open when you wear it as you sleep. It may help if your snoring does not improve with weight loss or side sleeping. It may also help in some cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
CPAP is the standard treatment for moderate to severe cases of OSA. It also may be used for mild sleep apnea, but not for simple snoring. It provides a steady stream of air through a mask to keep your airway open as you sleep.
Your doctor likely will have you try CPAP if you have sleep apnea and are sleepy during the day. It will also be used to treat your sleep apnea if you have high blood pressure or another heart problem.
Surgery may be an option if other treatments fail to improve your snoring or sleep apnea. There are many types of nasal, throat and jaw surgeries. They are used most often when a physical abnormality obstructs your breathing. They may help some but not all people with snoring or sleep apnea.
Studies have shown that these treatments may be very effective. They reduce the number of times that you stop breathing and improve the symptoms of OSA. These treatments also help reduce snoring.
How well each treatment works may vary from one person to another. You should consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. He or she can help you choose the treatment that will work best for you.
Your sleep specialist will want to know if your sleep and breathing improve after treatment. He or she may have you come in for an overnight sleep study to see if your treatment has helped you. If your breathing during sleep is not better, then your doctor may recommend another treatment option.
SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; Reviewed by Sharon L. Schutte-Rodin, MD