There are many factors that can be causing you to snore and there are steps you can take to mitigate these factors and help reclaim uninterrupted and restful sleep. King Edward VII’s Hospital consultant in respiratory medicine Dr David Simcock is here to explain what causes snoring, why it shouldn’t be ignored and how it can be treated.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is caused by the muscles in your mouth and throat relaxing as you fall asleep. This leads to a narrowing of your throat, and as you breathe when you’re asleep, your tongue, airways or tissues in your nose or throat vibrate, making a loud noise.
Who can be affected by snoring?
Anyone can develop a snoring problem, although according to the NHS, you’re more likely to snore if you’re overweight or obese, drink alcohol in the evenings before bed, are a smoker or you sleep on your back.
Snoring affects both men and women, young or old.
How to know if you snore
Some people find out that they snore because they have a partner who tells them. However, if you sleep alone or your partner is a deep sleeper, there are other clues that might indicate that you snore.
Constantly waking up feeling tired could be a sign that snoring is disrupting your sleep. There are many sleep aid apps available now that record sounds as you sleep, highlighting the times when sounds are present. It may be useful to use one each night for a few weeks to see if you’re snoring during the night.
Wearable fitness tracking devices, such as a Fitbit, now also have sleep trackers that can tell you how well you’re sleeping and if you snore or have a condition called sleep apnoea.
The importance of good sleep
Disrupted sleep on a continual basis isn’t good for your health. Aside from making you feel tired, a lack of quality sleep can mean that you struggle at work, make poor decisions and become more likely to have an accident.
It can also mean that your relationships with loved ones, friends, family members, children and colleagues suffer too, as you can become increasingly irritable.
Poor sleep, caused by snoring yourself or having a partner that snores loudly can also lead to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. It can also lead to problems with your physical health too.
How else might snoring affect my health?
Everybody feels tired from time to time, but if you’re tired constantly, you may become irritable or struggle with everyday tasks and decision making.
If your snoring is also affecting the sleep patterns of your partner, it can cause tension and arguments.
While snoring is not an indication that you have heart disease, it’s important to take it seriously. Studies have provided evidence that if you snore and also have a condition that causes your breathing to become disordered, like obstructive sleep apnoea, then you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease (AF, hypertension and stroke).
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a condition where your breathing becomes obstructed when you sleep. It’s caused by the muscles in the throat relaxing, causing the soft tissue within the throat to collapse inwards. Your airflow then becomes blocked and you effectively stop breathing for a few seconds.
Sleep apnoea can be frightening and is characterised by loud snoring or snorting sounds and being woken from a deep sleep by gasping from a lack of oxygen. The research continues into this link between snoring, sleep apnoea and heart disease, but if you’re concerned about sleep apnoea then it’s important that you speak to your doctor.
Other studies are also researching the possible association between sleep apnoea and dementia. One more recent study, found a link between sleep apnoea and increased amounts of an Alzheimer’s disease biomarker called tau. Tau is a protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s in the area that is associated with memory.
When to see a doctor about your snoring
Snoring can be annoying and can disrupt your sleep but there are times when snoring shouldn’t be ignored and you should see your doctor.
If you regularly wake up gasping for breath, it’s likely that you have sleep apnoea which requires medical intervention.
You should also seek medical help if your snoring is significantly affecting your everyday life, leaving you feeling tired and depressed or is causing you to experience potential danger such as falling asleep at the wheel of your car.
If your relationship is also under strain, then speaking to your doctor about how you can treat your snoring can help build a bond with your partner again.
What snoring treatments exist?
Snoring treatments vary from person to person and how well they work depends on the severity of your problem.
Often, snoring can be treated by making lifestyle changes such as losing weight or avoiding alcohol before bed. Making these kinds of lifestyle changes can also have benefits for other areas of your physical health and reduce your chances of developing associated chronic health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Sleeping on your back usually makes you breathe through your mouth rather than your nose, making snoring worse, so sleeping on your side can help. If you go to sleep on your side, but naturally roll onto your back during the night, there are special wedge-shaped pillows available that you can place alongside you to prevent you rolling over.
You could also place a tennis ball in the back of your pyjamas or underpants that will feel very uncomfortable, making you less likely to roll onto your back while you sleep.
If your snoring is affecting your partner’s sleep, high quality, noise-cancelling ear plugs are available from electronics shops and pharmacies that are far more effective than cheaper, foam ear plugs.
There are physical devices that you can wear to help stop snoring too. If you roll onto your back in your sleep and your mouth falls open causing you to snore, you could try a chin strap device that keeps your mouth closed. Alternatively, a device called a vestibular shield can be worn in the mouth forcing you to breathe through your nose.
Sometimes, snoring is caused by your tongue blocking the back of your throat. In this case, a mandibular advancement device worn in the mouth will help to bring your tongue forward.
In other cases, narrow airways in your nose can cause you to snore. Strips called nasal dilators similar to those worn by long distance runners can be placed over your nose before bed to open up your airways.
The cause of your snoring and the best course of treatment will be determined by your GP or specialist ear, nose and throat doctor.
In some people, surgery may be necessary to help stop snoring or sleep apnoea. Surgery is always the last resort for snoring. It can involve one of three procedures, depending on your symptoms and cause:
- Tonsillectomy — the removal of your tonsils if they’re obstructing your breathing.
- Laser assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) — the uvula is the small piece of flesh that hangs on the inside of the back of your throat. A LAUP procedure involves your surgeon using a laser to make small incisions in your uvula or removing it completely, whilst you’re under a local anaesthetic. This will help reduce the vibrations in your throat, reducing the sound of your snoring.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) — in cases of severe snoring, a UPPP procedure can be performed. This involves your surgeon removing your tonsils, uvula and parts of the soft tissue at the back of your mouth including parts of your tongue, whilst you’re asleep under a general anaesthetic.
Your doctor or surgeon will discuss your options with you.
- Your GP is a good first port of call if you snore and you’d like to discuss your treatment options. If you don’t have a GP, you can book an appointment with one of our same day private GPs.
- The King Edward VII’s Hospital Ear, Nose and Throat Department is a specialist unit dedicated to treating all conditions common to snoring and breathing in general.
- Our Respiratory Medicine Unit can also help if you suffer with sleep apnoea.