Being kept awake all night by the sounds of a bull moose caught in a lawn mower can drive you crazy. An occasional night on the couch may not be a big deal. But when the snoring goes on and on, all night long, night after night, people get desperate. Around the world, the spouses of snorers have resorted to separate bedrooms, divorce, and even murder.
Sleep deprivation has serious physical and mental repercussions. It can lead to memory loss, poor judgment, reduced cognitive functioning, heart disease, high blood pressure, loss of sex drive, depression, premature aging, weight gain, worsening of existing medical problems, and a shortened life span.
It isn't just the snorer's spouse who is getting hurt. Snorers' sleep cycles are often disrupted, and they may be waking up many times during the night, even when they are not consciously aware of what is happening. They experience all the same harmful effects of sleep deprivation as their spouses. Additionally, snorers may suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition in which breathing stops for brief periods during sleep, and then restarts, often with a loud choking or snorting sound.
Snoring is caused by restrictions or obstructions to the flow of air to the mouth and nose. Common causes are poor muscle tone of the throat and tongue, bulky throat tissue resulting from weight gain, excessive muscle relaxation due to drugs or alcohol, and the underlying structure of an individual's jaw and airways.
There is hope. In many cases, snoring can be reduced or stopped altogether. Here are some of the approaches suggested by sleep experts.
- Change your sleep position. Snoring is more likely to occur if you sleep on your back, because this position worsens the effect of relaxed tongue and throat muscles. A body pillow may make it easier to sleep on your side. Sewing a tennis ball or other uncomfortable object to the back of your sleep shirt will discourage rolling into the wrong position during the night.
- A neck support pillow may reposition your head and neck so that the throat can stay open.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant, making it more likely your jaw will drop open while your tongue and throat sag.
- Lose weight. Dropping just 10-15 pounds can make a huge difference in the amount of excess tissue in the throat.
- Open your nasal passages. Congestion or a narrow nasal cavity may be blocking your air flow. A steamy shower, saline spray, or nasal strips may improve the situation.
- Remove allergens and irritants. Keep the bedroom well vacuumed and dusted. If your pillows are washable, wash them at least once a month. Otherwise, regularly run them through a fluff cycle in the dryer to remove hair and dust. If your pillows are a few years old, it may be time to replace them. Keep pets off the bed. If you suspect that you have chronic allergies, see your doctor for testing and treatment.
- Raise the head of the bed a few inches. This can be done with a foam wedge under the mattress, or with blocks placed under the feet of the bed frame.
- Anti-snoring mouthpieces are designed to be worn at night. They either reposition the jaw or hold the tongue in place. These come in a wide range of styles and materials. At the higher end are customized devices made by dentists or other specialists.
- Chin straps may be more comfortable and affordable than mouthpieces. They are designed to keep the jaw in place during the night.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration increases the stickiness of mucous, which in turn may intensify snoring.
- Exercise. Some experts think that tongue and facial exercises can firm up the slack muscles that contribute to snoring. Exercises include inflating balloons, hyperextending the tongue, and grinning widely.
- There are various medications that purport to help snoring. As a last resort, there is surgery. These treatments are not always effective, and should be considered only after consultation with a doctor.
- Only a qualified doctor can diagnose sleep apnea. Not all snoring is caused by apnea, and apnea does not always cause snoring. If you are suffering from chronic fatigue and ongoing sleep disturbances, a medical checkup can help you find out exactly what is happening.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
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