I’ve written a handful of times previously about snoring, and how it can interfere with the snorer’s and their partner’s quality of sleep. Many people ask, is it normal to snore? The answer is yes, snoring is very common. If you’d like to discover how to stop snoring holistically, keep reading.
What is Snoring, and What Causes It?
Snoring is the result of the muscles in the airway— your mouth, nose, and throat— relaxing, resulting in a narrowing or obstruction of the airway. This obstruction causes the soft tissue in the airway to vibrate, which creates the familiar sound of snoring.
So, what percentage of people snore? Approximately 57% of men, 40% of women, and even 10-12% of children snore habitually. While snoring itself is usually a harmless and temporary occurrence, it can indicate potentially greater health problems for the person snoring.
While snoring becomes a more common problem with age, certain risk factors will increase the possibility of snoring, including:
- Being Overweight/Obesity
- Alcohol Consumption
- Nasal Conditions, such as Deviated Septum
Even something as innocuous as sleeping on your back can contribute to snoring, and to make matters worse, these risk factors are often indicators for even greater health problems like obstructive sleep apnea.
So what can you do to reduce snoring, or to stop once and for all? First, let’s take a look at the different types of snorers, and where those sounds originate.
Types of Snorers
Not all snores are the same— there are several different types of snorers, and the type often depends on where the obstruction exists. For example, snoring can result from allergens irritating a person’s nasal passages, making them a Nasal snorer.
Similarly, inflammation from the back of the mouth or deep in the throat can cause snoring as well.
However, snoring rarely originates from a single area, but rather from a combination of places, such as the nasal passages and throat, mouth and throat, mouth and nose, or mouth and tongue.
If you’re not sure about where you or your bed partner’s snores are coming from, check out my Snore Score Quiz.
How to Stop Snoring— Holistic Changes You Can Make
So with all this in mind, what positive lifestyle changes can be made to stop snoring?
To start, losing weight is often the most significant step you can take to reduce or even eliminate snoring. While people within a normal weight range can still snore, extra fat tissue in the neck and throat can narrow the airways. Losing some extra weight can help to open the air passages, sometimes eliminating the issue entirely once the goal weight is reached. However, if weight loss doesn’t eliminate problem snoring, there are other ways to proceed.
On top of all the other health problems that smoking presents, it can also make you or your sleep partner more likely to snore by irritating the airways. Even secondhand smoke can increase the risk of snoring. Quitting is far easier said than done, but doing so can help treat and prevent a variety of health problems outside of snoring.
It’s important to also avoid alcohol before bed. Drinking alcoholic beverages a few hours before going to sleep can relax the tissue in your throat, causing yourself or your sleeping partner to snore. In addition, alcohol usage is associated with sleep disorders such as insomnia, circadian rhythm abnormalities, and short sleep duration.
Avoid Medications That Promote Muscle Relaxation
As well as avoiding alcohol before bed, avoid taking medications that promote muscle relaxation in the evening. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium, may relax muscles in the throat and cause snoring.
Change Your Sleep Position
If you’ve tried the above and are still struggling with snoring, changing your sleep position can also help.
Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall back toward your throat and press against the top of your airway. To remedy this, elevate your head slightly, or sleep on your side.
If you have trouble staying on your side at night, use a body pillow to help prop yourself into the correct position. You can also train yourself to sleep on your side using a tennis ball or a rolled-up pair of socks attached to the back of your sleep attire. This will make sleeping on your back uncomfortable, encouraging you to roll back to your side to fall asleep.
Reduce Nasal Congestion
If you’re congested or if your nasal passages are irritated, rinse and clean the nasal passages with saline solution or a neti pot. Doing so can reduce the size of internal tissues and help clear any debris clogging the passages.
A humidifier can also help reduce swelling or irritation in the airways.
How to Sleep with a Bed Partner that Snores
Your partner’s snoring can ruin your sleep in addition to their own! Not only are you both at a higher risk of sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders, but your relationship can suffer as well.
Nearly 25 percent of American couples sleep in separate bedrooms, with a partner’s snoring being a common reason why. If you enjoy sleeping next to your significant other and don’t want separate bedrooms, there are other options to help you get a good night’s sleep with a snoring bed partner.
One solution is to use earplugs, which are widely available at pharmacies and grocery stores.
Sound machines are another great option to drown out the noise and help you sleep through a partner’s snoring. These machines play unobtrusive white noise to help lull you to sleep, and many machines include a variety of calming sounds to choose from, such as rainfall, bird sounds, or ocean waves.
If you want the best of both worlds, I recommend using products like the Bose Sleepbuds II. These work with Bose’s Sleep app to help you fall and stay asleep by playing soothing sounds while Bose’s noise-masking technology dampens background noise. I’ve partnered with Bose because of their commitment to creating a good night’s sleep by reducing background noise and creating a peaceful environment to rest.
Over the Counter Snoring Aids
Unfortunately, not all positive changes can end snoring overnight. Thankfully though, there are plenty of options to help treat snoring in the short term. Some over the counter options recommended by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation include:
- Nasal strips, such as Breathe Right
- Nasal resistance valves, such as Theravent
- Oral appliances such as mouthguards, which can be self-fitted or fitted by a specialist.
Even with these solutions in place, snoring can persist. If this is the case, this kind of snoring can indicate an even greater threat to you or your sleeping partner’s rest, as well as your overall health.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common but serious sleep disorder that increases the risk of other serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and cognitive issues. Unfortunately, this condition often goes undiagnosed. And while loud snoring does not always mean one has OSA, the link between the two makes it vital to get tested and treated to ensure that your snoring isn’t a part of a more serious disorder.
If testing does indicate OSA, however, then there are a number of treatment options that can help you or your sleeping partner breathe and sleep better at night. A recommended treatment option is CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure. This device is worn over the nose and mouth and it opens the airways by blowing air into them.
While CPAP is a highly effective treatment, some find the device difficult to get used to. Surgical options targeting the uvula, tongue, or soft palate are available, but you may want to explore some of the previously suggested options before considering more invasive medical treatment.
Conclusion: What to do Next and Where to Get Help
If snoring has become an issue, it’s important to get tested and treated for any underlying conditions right away. To find accredited sleep specialists and sleep centers near you, consider using the tool provided by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Snoring is not a part of life you or your sleep partner should have to live with. There are easy steps you can take to reduce or prevent snoring, and potentially address more serious health problems in the process.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor