Snoring & Sleep Apnea- Causes and treatments

There is something incredibly primal and extreme that happens when you can’t sleep due to the sound of someone snoring.

It’s like you want to kill someone; if the snoring doesn’t stop, someone’s going down.

We’re more sensitive to sounds at night.  The main squeeze of our senses, vision of course, is dulled.  All the other senses become heightened in the dark.

The sound of a pet or a partner snoring is enough to drive you to moments of insanity.  And the worst part is, it’s really hard to get them to stop.  While the best move seems to be to roll them over (or yell at them to roll over), it’s not foolproof.  There are many variables at play here including the fervor of the snore, the awareness of the person snoring, and whether or not this person actually cares they are causing you mental anguish.

Chronic snoring reportedly affects over 90 million American adults.

It’s the reason why otherwise happily married couples sleep in separate rooms.  Why the family Golden Retriever is doomed to a life of sleeping downstairs.  Why lifelong friends are forced to shell out extra cash for separate hotel rooms.

This is NOT an over-dramatization.

These are the cold, hard realities of snoring situations.  And obviously there’s a negative effect on relationships here.

Why are so many people snoring and so many partners suffering?  How is it we seriously have not figured out how to deal with this as a species?

Let’s investigate the science of snoring: what causes it and for the love of God, if there is a legitimate method out there that will rid us of this sleep problem for good.

 

What Causes Snoring

Anatomy

Snoring begins precisely when you are drifting off from a light sleep to a heavy, deep sleep.  At this point, the muscles on the roof of your mouth and in your throat start to relax.  When they become completely relaxed, they actually block the airway and vibrate, creating the sound of the snore.

If you naturally have a narrower airway, you’re more likely to snore.  If you happen to have a low-hanging soft palate (upper mouth muscle group) or thicker throat tissue, you are more likely to be a snorer.  AND interestingly enough, if you are a man, you are also more prone to snoring. 

Being overweight is also a big risk factor.

This is because an overweight or obese person will have more of that fatty tissue in the throat to vibrate and therefore, a higher predisposition to the condition.

Additionally, the aging process naturally causes the throat muscles to soften over time.

If you’re an elderly, overweight man, chances are you are one of the snorers keeping us all awake at night.

 

Sleep-deprivation and alcohol/drug use

When you’re sleep-deprived, your body will eventually catch itself up with what’s called recovery sleep (See the earlier blog post about it here).  This is your body and brain’s natural way of restoration via entering into a very deep sleep to compensate for what was lost.  Since recovery sleep is deeper, the throat muscles relax more than usual.  Hence, you’re probably going to snore after you pull an all-nighter.

Alcohol and drug use, especially muscle relaxants, will relax the same muscles to an extreme level.  The caricature of a passed out drunk snoring at insane decibels is based on reality, in case you’ve never witnessed this in your own experiences.

 

Allergies or illness

Allergies, nasal infection or any illness that affects the throat area is going to lead to an increase in snoring.  Infections block your airway, and in the case of allergies, pathogens entering your system are constantly being attacked by your immune system.  This causes the nasal and throat passages to become inflamed and block the natural flow of air.

 

Sleep apnea

In some cases, snoring is not simply a laughing matter or a regular source of contention for couples.  If accompanied by other specific occurrences, it can be a warning sign of a serious medical condition.

 

What is sleep apnea?

Everybody snores once in a while due to the aforementioned causes.  You have bad allergies, you drink too much one night, or maybe you have a naturally narrow airway.

Sleep apnea is different. 

It is an often-hereditary medical problem whose symptoms include persistent snoring along with AT LEAST ONE of the following:

  • Severe daytime drowsiness
  • Headaches or sore throat upon waking
  • Paused or limited breathing during sleep
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure

What’s the big deal? 

Sleep apnea causes problems in situations where anesthesia or pain medication is needed.  These drugs drastically affect respiration and a sleep apnea condition will compromise them.  Call your doctor ASAP if you suspect you have sleep apnea.

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The Solutions

Roll over!

It’s so simple!  But it’s a legitimate way to stop you or your roomie from creating those dreadful rumbles in the night.  Anatomically, you’re less likely to snore when laying on your side.  Your airway is less obstructed and the throat tissue is not being pressed upwards.  You’re most likely to do so while lying on your back.  You can actually train yourself to habitually sleep on your side.  There are various products sold online to facilitate said training.  Their effectiveness is uncertain.

 

Be healthy.

Don’t drink alcohol excessively and not shortly before bedtime.  Drinking right before sleep is linked to louder and more prolonged snoring. 

And maintain a healthy weight. 

Remember, the more overweight you are, the more tissue you’re likely to have accumulated in your airway.  Medical studies have in fact directly related obesity and high BMI (Body Mass Index) with sleep-disordered breathing.  A whopping 70% of adults with sleep apnea are significantly overweight or obese.

 

Stay hydrated.

Adequate hydration is important to maintaining overall health, which as stated, decreases the likelihood of snoring.  On a more specific level, hydration greatly helps the underlying causes of allergies and illness.  Drinking the recommended 64 ounces per day keeps your body’s natural detoxification process flowing.  This process should eventually push out and fight off pathogens and toxins, provided it is flowing smoothly.

 

Think you may have sleep apnea?  See your doctor.

If you or a loved one are an excessive snorer and exhibit at least one of the symptoms of sleep apnea listed above, it’s time to see your doctor.  In this case, a medical professional should be the one to recommend the best course of action. 

And it’s not the end of the world!

There are many effective treatments for sleep apnea out there today.  Your doctor may suggest one of the following options:

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (CPAP) - This is a mask-like apparatus you wear while sleeping to increase the air pressure moving through your throat and minimize vibration. A CPAP can be used to treat sleep apnea OR excessive snoring.
  • Oral Appliances- These resemble a mouth guard or orthodontic headgear. There are several options on the market, and they work to mechanically open the airway while you sleep. 
  • Surgery- There are a few surgical options in severe cases of sleep apnea where anatomy is the primary cause, including the removal of enlarged tonsils.

 <img alt="sleep apnea">

Whether you are the perpetrator or the long-suffering listener, there is hope for snoring situations everywhere!  The key, as with most sleep problems, is to address overall health issues.

And if that doesn’t work, a solid pair of earplugs is never a bad option.

 

SOURCES

https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/sleep-apnea-treatment-options/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/snoring/symptoms-causes/syc-20377694

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007663.htm

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/192578

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/other-sleep-disorders/snoring