- Health & Wellness
- Dr. Frischer
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After enduring a partner's nighttime noises, do you find yourself asking, "Why do we snore?" Snoring can become a quality of life issue, interfering with not only the sleep of the snorer, but of everyone else nearby. Snoring can lead to poor sleep and daytime fatigue, irritability, and increased health problems (not to mention relationship problems!). Thankfully, sleeping in separate bedrooms isn't the only remedy for snoring.
The sound of a snore is typically produced while inhaling, by vibrating structures in the upper airway (including the tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsillar pillars and pharyngeal walls). The result is a rough, harsh noise made in our sleep as we breathe. It varies in frequency, pitch, and intensity.
How common is snoring? It depends on who is asked and how we are asked, but figure that roughly 44 percent of men and 28 percent of women are habitual snorers. The fact that men actually have narrower air passages than women may help to explain the difference. Snoring can be hereditary, because a number of physical features, including a narrow throat, a cleft palate, deviated septum and enlarged adenoids or tonsils are causes. The likelihood of snoring rises with age, weight gain, having a family history of snoring, being out of shape, alcohol consumption, allergies, asthma, being a mouth breather, nasal obstruction, use of muscle relaxants, and smoking.
So, what can be done?
Sleep position: To lessen snoring, the best sleep position is on the side, and the worst is on the back. Propping up with a wedge-shaped pillow can help.
Stop smoking: Snoring among smokers is very likely, because smoking causes airways to be blocked by irritating the membranes in the nose and throat.
Exercise: Working on other muscles can also help to tone the muscles in your throat, which in turn can lead to less snoring.
Lose weight: Even a little weight loss can eliminate some of the fatty tissue at the back of the throat, a cause of snoring.
Avoid alcohol, sedatives, and sleeping pills: These relax the muscles in the throat and can interfere with breathing. Some prescription medications lead to deeper levels of sleep, which can make snoring worse.
Establish regular sleep patterns: Bedtime rituals can lead to better sleep, and often minimize snoring. Large meals (or heavy snacks) two-three hours before bedtime can be disruptive to your sleep patterns.
Devices: Various devices have been developed that are helpful for some. One is a strip ("Breathe Right," for example), which is attached to the outside of the nose like a bandage, and lifts and opens the nasal passages to improve air flow. Oral appliances (fitted by a dentist) and continuous positive pressure devices (CPAP) have been useful.
Surgery: Various surgeries may be a last resort when sleep apnea or other underlying causes are involved.
Don't ignore the psychosocial issues related to being in a relationship with a snorer. Even the most patient amongst us may draw the line at sleep deprivation. No matter how much sleep we lose, however, it's important to be sensitive: your partner may be feeling vulnerable and even embarrassed about this issue.
*It's not intentional. Although it's easy to feel like a victim when you lose sleep, remember that your partner isn't ruining your sleep deliberately.
*Avoid lashing out. Sleep deprivation can be aggravating and even unhealthy, but approach the problem in a non-confrontational manner.
*Choose the right timing. Avoid the middle of the night or the early morning when you're both tired.
*Use humor; laughing about it (not teasing) eases tension. Remember, snoring is a physical issue that your partner has little control over.
If you snore loudly and heavily and are tired during the day, if you stop breathing, gasp, or choke during sleep, or if you fall asleep at inappropriate times, like during a conversation or a meal, then please see your doctor.
Snoring causes more lost sleep and irritability than most of us realize. Let's close with the words of composer and novelist Anthony Burgess, "Laugh and the world laughs with you; snore and you sleep alone."
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: March 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 50