Whilst it is commonly a topic that causes joking and leg-pulling, snoring is a serious business! Around 45% of the adult population snore at least occasionally and, of those, around 75% have obstructive sleep apnoea (when breathing is disrupted during sleep for short periods), which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Snoring can also create major problems in a relationship and this month, our Sussex health expert takes a look at what we can do to help snorers and their partners alike.
There are a number of potential causes of snoring:
- Muscle tone of the tongue
During sleep the muscle tone in the tongue and soft palate tends to decrease, so that it becomes more relaxed and can collapse together. Other soft tissues, such as tonsils, can produce sounds that add to or change the quality of the snoring. Sleeping position affects the amount of snoring. Lying on your back allows the tongue to fall back toward the throat and block the airway; so that snoring becomes both more likely and louder.
- Blockage of airway
Anything that obstructs the airway will contribute to snoring. For example, snoring is more likely if the adenoids or tongue are large or if the nasal passages are swollen from a cold or allergies. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the primary cause of snoring in children.
Age and other factors
Older people tend to snore more because muscle tone tends to decrease with age. Other factors also aggravate snoring; such as alcohol, certain medications, stress or anxiety and sheer physical exhaustion.
1) Weight loss
2) Establishing any food allergies and eliminating them
3) Avoiding the following:
- alcohol (promotes too much relaxation of the trachea)
- sleeping pills, sedatives or muscle relaxants(same as above)
- smoking (can irritate the trachea and lead to congestion)
- caffeine and other diuretics (dehydration can lead to respiratory problems)
- congestant foods (dairy, chocolate, bananas etc.)
Allergies can inflame the nasal passages, sinuses, and airways of the lungs and commonly cause or contribute to snoring. Data collected from people with allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) and asthma show that these people are more likely to be snorers than are non-allergic people.
Studies have also shown that when snoring is treated using a continuous positive airway pressure device (a CPAP) – an instrument primarily used to treat sleep apnoea – night-time asthma attacks decrease.
Children who snore are also more likely to have allergies, often along with associated food sensitivities. Establishing food sensitivities and removing them from the diet will reduce or – in some cases – completely eliminate the problem.
High blood pressure and coronary artery disease are more common in both men and women who are habitual snorers. In women, snoring is more common after menopause and especially in those with high blood pressure.
Obesity and lack of physical activity are commonly associated with heavy snoring, even in children. Obese men who snore are significantly more likely to develop diabetes than are obese men who do not snore.
Smoking increases the likelihood of snoring because of its effects on the nasal passages and sinuses. In addition, nicotine may cause sleep disturbances that result in more snoring. A sleep study found that heavy smokers are more likely to snore than are moderate and light smokers. However, on a positive note, people who quit smoking are no more likely to snore than people who have never smoked. Exposure to environmental smoke, or “second-hand smoke,” has been shown to increase the likelihood of snoring in children.
Alcohol can cause relaxation in the soft tissues and muscles in the throat. This will result in snoring or sleep apnoea. Side-lying whilst asleep will help to reduce the decibel level of snoring. Sleeping pills, sedatives and muscle relaxants will all promote excessive relaxation of the trachea and contribute to an increased likelihood of snoring. Removal of these drugs is generally followed by an immediate improvement in the incidence and severity of snoring.
So what can our Sussex snorers do? Well, there are some exercises that help strengthen and tone the muscles in the throat – in some cases, using them can get rid of snoring completely.
1) Hold a pencil between the teeth for up to 5 minutes. The grip should be firm, without being painful.
2) Press a finger gently upwards against the under-surface of the chin for up to 3 minutes.
3) Push the tongue against the lower row of teeth for about five minutes. (They should be performed just before bedtime)
There are a variety of appliances on the market to eliminate snoring – from oral and nasal appliances to pillows and straps – all of which report varying success rates. The key take-home from the reviews is that what may work for one person does not necessarily work for others!
Using a humidifier may help. Dry air will contribute to snoring problems because it dries out the throat and nasal membranes. This creates congestion which alters the breathing pattern and cause the tissues to vibrate. Essentials oils can also be added to the humidifier for additional relief.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Vitamin C has been shown to improve both the quality and quantity of sleep, especially in the older generation. It also helps to relieve sleep apnoea, which is commonly associated with snoring. Untreated sleep apnoea increases the incidence of high blood pressure and impairs cognitive wellbeing.
Bromelain is part of a group of enzymes found in pineapple. Its primary use is as an anti-inflammatory, as well as a digestive aid. It is also known to degrade mucous in the air passages, which will tend to aggravate snoring problems.
Coenzyme Q10 is believed to work as an antioxidant and sleep promoter when paired with bromelain.
Botanical treatment options
There are many herbs available to alleviate some of the causes of snoring:
Ginger can stop snoring, by increasing the secretion of saliva, which coats the throat and by providing a soothing effect. Mixing the ginger with honey can further lubricate the throat and can alleviate other aspects of nasal congestion as well as snoring.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) also works as an anti-inflammatory in the same way as vitamin C and helps to soothe the throat, which may reduce snoring. If snoring is the result of nasal or chest congestion, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and goldenseal can be used as herbs that all relieve congestion.
Thyme essential oil may also be used against snoring. Thyme helps to remove mucous from sinus passages and help facilitate better breathing.
Valerian is used to help treat a variety of sleep disorders related to stress and anxiety; but can also be used with other herbs such as thyme to help relax the muscles and open airways. If the snoring is caused by or exacerbated by stress and anxiety, herbs such as Passion flower and Valerian root may be useful, both of which aid in relaxing the body and inducing sleep.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2021. All rights reserved. Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit www.purebio.co.uk for all your nutritional supplement needs.