As anyone who has shared a bed with a snoring partner knows, the condition can be more than a simple annoyance: It can become downright maddening—for both of you. He snores, you wake and ask him to roll over; he snores again, you elbow him (perhaps not so gently) and ask him to roll over once more. The process continues until, desperate for rest, you move to the couch for the remainder of the night. You both emerge in the morning, groggy and sleep-deprived.
Needless to say, this pattern isn’t healthy—not for him, not for you and perhaps not for your relationship.
The good news is that there are solutions to your partner’s snoring. (Or your own—while about 40 percent of adult men are habitual snorers, approximately 24 percent of adult women are as well, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.1) Here’s a look at some of the most common questions about the condition, along with real-world tips to help your partner—and you—get the rest you both need.
Q: What causes people to snore?
A: According to the National Sleep Foundation2, snoring occurs when the muscles of your throat relax during sleep. This causes your tongue to fall backward and your throat to become narrow and "floppy." Then, as you breathe, the walls of your throat begin to vibrate, causing the distinctive snoring sound. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration—and the louder the snoring. It’s a common problem: Approximately 90 million American adults are snorers; of those, 37 million snore regularly.2
Interestingly, men’s air passages are naturally more narrow than women’s, which is why men tend to snore more — and more loudly — than women.3
Q: Besides being male, is there anything that makes you more likely to snore?
A: The National Sleep Foundation2 reports that in addition to being male, being overweight or obese is one of the most common reasons for snoring, especially if you have excess fatty tissue around the neck. In addition, snoring becomes more common with age due to natural relaxation of the throat muscles.
Other factors that make you more likely to snore include2:
- Inflammation of the nose or throat, such as if you have allergies or a cold.
- Sleeping on your back.
- Use of muscle relaxants or alcohol (the latter acts as a muscle relaxant and will cause snoring if used before bed, the Foundation reports).
In addition, the Mayo Clinic4 states that sleep deprivation can contribute to snoring because it causes increased relaxation of the throat. And the American Academy of Sleep Medicine5 says that smoking can increase your chances of snoring by relaxing both your tongue and throat muscles.
Q: How are sleep apnea and snoring related?
A: Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea6, a condition that involves the walls of the throat completely collapsing so you cannot breathe. This cessation of breathing is called apnea. Approximately one-half of people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea.2
With obstructive sleep apnea, even though your brain senses that you are not breathing and wakes you to breathe (so briefly that you may not even remember it), this pattern of not breathing, followed by arousal, can happen up to 30 times — or more — per hour.7 Needless to say, this pattern can lead to extreme sleep deprivation.
Yet loss of sleep isn’t the only concern with sleep apnea. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association8, if left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can cause serious health problems, including chronic heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. It is also associated with Type 2 diabetes and depression.
Also worrisome is that the incidence of obstructive sleep apnea seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, most likely due to the obesity epidemic, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine9 reports. It’s estimated that 26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 now have obstructive sleep apnea.
If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, consult your doctor right away. In addition to snoring, symptoms include6:
- A change in your level of attention, concentration or memory.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Morning headaches.
- Recent weight gain.
- Waking at night feeling confused.
- Witnessed pauses in breathing during sleep, such as if your partner sees or hears you stop breathing.
Tips to Help You Get the Sleep You Need
If you or your partner snore, the Mayo Clinic10 recommends the following to help you prevent, or reduce the frequency of it:
- Focus on healthy weight loss. People who are overweight or obese may have extra fatty tissues in the throat, which can cause snoring. Losing weight can help “shrink” those tissues and improve snoring.
- Sleep on your side. Lying on your back narrows your airway by allowing your tongue to fall backward into your throat. To help keep yourself from rolling onto your back while you sleep, try a pillow or “side sleeper” placed behind your back to help keep you on your side.
- Raise the head of your bed. Just 4 inches may help.
- Treat nasal congestion or obstruction. Having allergies or a deviated septum can limit airflow through your nose, forcing you to breathe through your mouth and increasing the chance of snoring. A deviated septum or other abnormality may require surgery; talk to your doctor.
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives. Avoid drinking alcohol or taking sedatives, especially before bedtime, as both can contribute to snoring by relaxing the muscles in your throat. The National Sleep Foundation2 advises avoiding muscle relaxants before bed as well.
- Quit smoking. Kicking this unhealthy habit may help improve your snoring.
- Get enough sleep. Aim for at least seven hours per night. Here are 10 tips to get a better night’s sleep.
Whether you or your partner is a snorer, keep in mind that the condition may not simply be interfering with your sleep—it may be a sign of something more serious that could be affecting your health. We hope you’ll use this information to improve your snoring … and, if necessary, to get the help you need to improve your overall health and well-being.
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This article is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
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Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.