Health Library

Categories > Sleep Disorders > Snoring

Snore no more
Quiet the riot
Mouthpiece, please
Surgical intervention

More than a snore?
More than a snore?

Snoring is usually just snoring, but for some 12 million Americans—most of them overweight or obese—the bedtime bedlam is actually caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep, disrupting sleep three or more nights a week. Many sufferers aren’t even aware they have a problem until a loved one points it out. But the evidence is hard to ignore:

  • loud, chronic snoring
  • choking or gasping during sleep
  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • morning headaches
  • memory or concentration problems
  • irritability or mood swings
  • dry throat upon waking

The preferred method of treatment is a breathing device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. When you sleep, you wear a mask that fits over your nose, forcing air through the throat and keeping the airway open. Some people find CPAP uncomfortable; however, many types of CPAP machines and masks are available, so finding one that fits your needs is possible.

Does your bedroom sound like a symphony of chain saws? Join the club. Forty-five percent of adults snore at least occasionally, and 25 percent of us make a regular habit of it, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. Snoring is more common among men and people who are overweight and it usually worsens with age.

If you regularly snore, that means something is stopping you from breathing freely. You need to be checked out by a healthcare professional, who may recommend follow-up with a sleep specialist or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). Possible reasons for the ruckus include the following:

  • nasal congestion caused by seasonal allergies
  • a deviated septum (crooked cartilage and tissue separating the nostrils)
  • enlarged tonsils or adenoids (a common cause of snoring for kids)
  • alcohol or sedative use
  • obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes sufferers to repeatedly stop breathing in their sleep, as often as 300 times a night. OSA can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes and heart problems, like irregular heartbeats and heart attack.

Quiet the riot

For people with a milder problem, simple lifestyle changes may do the trick:

  • Shed excess pounds. Losing weight can reduce fat deposits in the throat and open up the airways.
  • Avoid alcohol at least four hours before bedtime. Alcohol can relax the muscles in the throat, making it hard to breathe during sleep. Medications that lead to drowsiness can have the same effect.
  • Tackle congestion. Over-the-counter decongestants or allergy medications can open up airflow through the nose and cut back on mouth breathing. Ask your healthcare provider whether these treatments might be helpful for you. If allergies are the source of congestion, rid your bedroom of feather or down pillows and comforters, the family dog and other potential triggers.
  • Skip the smokes. Cigarettes can worsen congestion.
  • Roll over. Sleeping on your back can make snoring more likely, so snooze on your side or invest in special pillows that prevent you from rolling onto your back.
  • Stick with nasal strips. These adhesive strips temporarily widen nostrils and are available at any pharmacy.
  • Adjust your bed. Tilt the head of the bed up four inches.

Mouthpiece, please

A dentist can give you a custom-fit mouthpiece. It helps reposition the tongue and soft palate (the fleshy rear part of the mouth) to keep the airway open. Mouthpieces are best for loud snorers and those with mild OSA. If you get one, you’ll need to see your dentist regularly to make sure the fit is correct and your snoring problem hasn’t worsened.

Surgical intervention

Sometimes surgery is the only way to correct snoring or OSA. A few common procedures:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. Flabby tissue at the back of the throat is removed, allowing for more airflow for OSA sufferers.
  • Laser surgery. A laser beam adjusts the soft palate and removes the uvula (the “punching bag” at the back of your throat). This widens your airway and reduces vibration. This procedure is usually used for loud, disruptive snoring not related to OSA.
  • Somnoplasty. Radiofrequency signals shrink excess tissue.