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What causes snoring?

If you have a snoring partner, you know that your chances of getting a restful sleep cuddled by their side are about as great as when cuddling by a construction worker who is drilling a hole your bedroom wall. Snoring is a major sleep disruptor, and – no matter how comfy they may look with their mouth blissfully open – it actually affects the sleep quality of the snorer as well as everyone in the vicinity. What causes snoring, and most importantly, how do we stop it?

Why do people snore?

First, some good news – or, rather, a consolation: you’re not alone. Snoring is more common than you think. Although the stereotypical snorer is your 60 year old uncle on the guest room sofa (middle aged and older men indeed comprise the largest group of snorers), in fact 30% of people over the age of 30 snore. One third of them is women.

Why does snoring happen? When we sleep, the air we breathe in and out naturally passes through our airways. When the muscles of the airway relax too much during sleep, this air flow causes them to vibrate, producing the sound that we call snoring.

The reason that older people are more likely to snore is because with age, muscle tone is gradually reduced everywhere including the throat. Some other conditions that are known to cause or exacerbate snoring include allergies, nasal congestions, swollen tonsils and adenoids (especially in children), smoking and obesity.

Some medications such as muscle relaxants and sleeping tablets, can also cause snoring, as can pregnancy, drinking too much alcohol before bed, or eating too much at nighttime.

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Certain anatomical peculiarities may also make snoring more likely – for instance, a bent septum (the wall between the nostrils), or a larger than usual tongue or uvula (the little flap hanging at the back of your mouth), a large palate, a thick neck or a weak glossopharygeal nerve (the nerve that helps control the tongue).

What to do?

First of all, the severity of the situation must be assessed. Everybody snores sometimes. If snoring is chronic, and especially if it is accompanied by irregular breathing, an overnight sleep study is a must, to help check for the existence of such sleep disorders as obstructive sleep apnea.

Once you consult with a sleep specialist, you can start looking for a solution to help reduce or eliminate snoring. It may be as simple as changing your sleeping position. Sleeping on your back makes your muscles more likely to relax and cause snoring. If you train yourself to sleep on your side, perhaps with the help of some devices available out there, that might just solve your problem.

Other available treatment options include TheraventTM  Snoring Therapy (for those without sleep apnea), which works by increasing the pressure inside the airway with the help of small adhesive devices that cover the nostrils, CPAP machines, and Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS) – these devices are placed in your mouth to make your lower jaw and tongue protrude to help keep the airway open.

Needless to say, avoid alcohol or eating too much before bed. Quit smoking (you will be gaining much more than a better night’s sleep).

In the meantime, present your partner with a gift of earplugs.*

(*Actually, it might not be such a good idea. If you do have sleep apnea, your bed partner might be the first one to notice the episodes of no-breathing.)

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