Whether it’s a quiet rasp or a harsher noise, snoring can be disruptive not only for bed partners and roommates but also for snorers themselves.
Snoring is very common. Usually, it isn’t caused by anything serious, but sometimes it can be linked to an underlying health problem and can affect your sleep quality.
What causes snoring?
‘The snoring sound can be caused by different parts of your airway, including your nose, your uvula [the dangly bit at the back of your throat], your pharynx [the back of your throat] and tonsils, and the base of your tongue,’ says Dr Nikki Ramskill, a Livi GP.
‘Snoring happens when any of these parts of your airway relax and collapse down. The collapsed parts then vibrate when air passes over them as you breathe in and out. It’s normal for this to happen during sleep, but not everyone snores.’
Who usually snores?
Almost everyone snores occasionally, but research shows that snoring becomes more common as we get older. ‘Snoring is a common problem in people between the ages of 40-60, especially men,’ says Dr Ramskill. It happens regularly in nearly half of men and around one-quarter of women. Snoring also appears to run in families.
Why do people snore?
‘Snoring isn’t usually caused by an underlying disorder, but some conditions make snoring more likely – including obesity, an underactive thyroid, enlarged tonsils or any cause of nasal blockage, like having a cold or a deviated septum [when the wall separating your nostrils is pushed to one side].’
Sometimes, our lifestyle habits play a role in whether we snore or not. ‘We’re more likely to snore after drinking alcohol, especially if it’s before bed,’ says Dr Ramskill. ‘Those who smoke regularly, take sleeping tablets or sedatives, or prefer to sleep on their back are also more prone to snoring.’
What’s the link between weight and snoring?
Research has shown that being overweight can disrupt your sleep and lead to snoring.‘This is because excess weight on the airways makes them more likely to collapse,’ says Dr Ramskill. ‘This can then lead to poor sleep quality, causing you to wake up tired.’
There’s a strong link between being overweight and developing a medical problem called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). ‘Sleep apnoea is a serious condition that occurs when the airway collapses so much that it temporarily stops you from breathing,’ says Dr Ramskill.
‘When this happens in the middle of the night, your oxygen blood level can drop, forcing you to wake up. This might be with a gasp, and it can be quite frightening to witness.’
How can I assess how serious my snoring is?
If you want to check whether your snoring is a problem, Dr Ramskill recommends the STOP-Bang questionnaire. The more questions you answer yes to, the higher your risk of sleep apnoea.
- Do you snore loudly (loud enough to be heard through closed doors)?
- Do you often feel tired, fatigued or sleepy during the day?
- Has anyone observed you stop breathing during your sleep?
- Do you have or are you being treated for high blood pressure?
- Is your BMI more than 35?
- Are you over 50 years old?
- Is the circumference of your neck more than 40cm?
- Are you male?
Answering yes to any of these questions doesn’t mean you have sleep apnoea – only that your risk might be higher. It’s a good idea to share your score with a doctor, as it’ll help them decide whether or not to refer you to a specialist.
How can I stop snoring?
There are a few strategies you can try to help your snoring – from simple lifestyle changes to more specialised snoring devices and remedies.
1. Make a few simple lifestyle changes
An effective way to address your snoring is aiming for an all-round healthy lifestyle. If you’re concerned about snoring, try:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Lowering your alcohol consumption
- Reducing or stopping smoking
- Taking fewer sedative medications, if you take any
2. Sleep on your side
Snoring can be related to sleeping on your back, so you can also try sleeping on your side. Dr Ramskill also recommends a technique called the ‘tennis ball trick’. ‘Try sewing a tennis ball into the back of a tight-fitting shirt to prevent you from rolling onto your back during the night,’ she says.
3. Alleviate allergy symptoms (if you have them)
‘If your snoring is triggered by hay fever or allergic reactions, try to hoover regularly, including on the mattress, and don’t allow any pets on the bed,’ says Dr Ramskill. ‘If you suffer from hay fever, try not to hang washing outside to dry in the summer.’
4. Try a snoring aid
When it comes to tackling snoring itself, there are several snoring aids and remedies to try:
- If you suffer from nasal congestion, try a decongestant or steroid nasal sprays. You can also try nasal strips and nasal dilators, which can be purchased from pharmacies.
- If you’re a mouth-breather, you can buy a chin strap to keep the mouth closed, or a vestibular shield to close off the mouth and force breathing through the nose.
- Some people find acupressure rings worn on the fingers helpful; these can be purchased online.
Always speak to a doctor before trying a new remedy.
What’s the treatment for sleep apnoea?
When snoring is caused by a serious condition like sleep apnoea, you may need more sophisticated treatment.
‘People with sleep apnoea will sometimes be offered a CPAP machine – this stands for continuous positive airway pressure,’ says Dr Ramskill. ‘A CPAP machine is fitted tightly around the nose and mouth and forces the airways open with a strong pressure of air when the person breathes in. This stops the oxygen from dropping in the blood and they feel much better for it.’
It can be hard to get used to sleeping with a CPAP machine, but using it every night will give you the best results.
What should I do if my sleeping partner or roommate snores?
Sleeping near someone who snores can be challenging, whether it’s the occasional bother or a total disruption. ‘While snoring might seem like a trivial thing, it can really impact relationships,’ says Dr Ramskill.
‘Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do. To maximise your sleep quality, try good quality earplugs (wax ones might work better than foam), use white noise or a fan to drown out the snoring, and try to fall asleep before your partner.’
Finally, tackle the problem as a team. Whether your partner is making ambitious lifestyle changes or simply trying a snoring aid, supporting their efforts can help you both get a good night’s sleep.
When should I see a doctor about my snoring?
It’s important to bear in mind that not everyone who is overweight and snores automatically has OSA. ‘More often than not, snoring is nothing to be worried about,’ says Dr Ramskill. ‘But it’s important to talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing signs of potential sleep apnoea.’
Dr Ramskill advises you to seek health advice about snoring if:
- You snore 3 or more nights per week
- Your snoring is very loud
- You make gasping, choking or snorting sounds
- In the daytime, you feel sleepy or find it hard to concentrate
- You wake up with morning headaches and congestion
‘If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it’s important to address the issue with a doctor who can determine if additional testing or treatment is necessary,’ says Dr Ramskill.
This article has been medically approved by Dr Nikki Ramskill, a Livi GP.