Your most common questions about snoring and sleep apnea, answered

Jun 09, 2022
If your snoring habits begin to become more serious, it would be worth booking in with your GP. Source: Getty

Are you the kind of person who constantly wakes up during the night because you’ve caught yourself snoring? Or maybe you’ve been woken up by a cranky partner who says your snoring kept them up all night.

Whether it’s a gentle snuffle to loud deeps raps, snoring is quite common, the condition impacts roughly around 57 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women.

While snoring can be a nuisance for both the snorer and anyone else in earshot, this sleep-associated behaviour can be a signal of a more serious health problem. Given that so many perceive snoring as an embarrassing sleep habit, it is often not talked about, leaving many people may with questions about their snoring habits such as why is it happening and how to stop it.

With that in mind and in an effort to alleviate any concerns around your snoring habits, Starts at 60 spoke to the sleep experts to answer the most common questions about snoring and when you should be concerned about the impact on your health.

What is snoring? Is it a problem?

According to the Sleep Foundation, “snoring happens when air cannot flow freely through the airway as you breathe in and out during sleep”, causing the tissues of the upper airway to vibrate and create the peculiar sound

Speaking to Starts at 60, respiratory and sleep physician, and founder of Manse Medical, Dr Andrew Bradbeer says snoring can certainly become an issue and even increase the likelihood of inheriting other concerning health conditions

“At its most severe, snoring becomes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  People with obstructive sleep apnea have periods of time where they just cannot get enough air past the floppy muscles of their throat when they are asleep. This becomes much more likely in mid-life and older adults. Obstructive sleep apnea, if present, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and memory problems,” he explains. 

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices are typically worn when a person has obstructive sleep apnea. Source: Getty

How can I stop snoring?

It’s well-known that lifestyle changes and looking after your health can have a significant impact on minimising snoring, but all this depends on what type of snorer you are.

“If you don’t have sleep apnoea, there are a few tricks to prevent snoring,” says Jane Wrigglesworth, a sleep consultant for How to Sleep Well.

Wrigglesworth recommends reducing alcohol intake before bedtime and quitting smoking, which may also eliminate snoring.

“Position therapy may help too. People are often much worse when lying on their back as opposed to their side. On your back, gravity pushes the tongue and soft palate further into the throat, which will block the air passages,” Wrigglesworth explains. 

While this can be easier said than done if your natural sleep habit is on your back, Wrigglesworth says there are devices available to help.

“There are padded belts available where the padded area sits in the middle of your back to prevent you from rolling over. For a makeshift alternative, try inserting a tennis ball in a pocket T-shirt and wearing the T-shirt backwards,” she said. 

“Vibrotactile feedback devices can be worn; they emit a small vibration when the wearer rolls onto their back, prompting them to roll back over without waking them up.”

She also recommends wearing oral devices, such as mandibular advancement devices. These are designed to increase airflow and decrease any restrictions at the back of the throat by moving the jaw and tongue forward.

Should I consider surgery or treatment for snoring?

Doctors may recommend using a device such as a mouthpiece to keep your airways open while you sleep, however, Dr Bardbeer says that sometimes surgery is the right treatment for snoring, but only if the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea has been carefully assessed.

“ENT surgeons will always want people who snore to have a sleep study before considering surgery.  The only exception to this might be for younger people who have very large tonsils,” explains Dr Bardbeer. 

Wrigglesworth also agrees that surgery is a possible solution, especially if someone with polyps within the nasal passage or a crooked septum that restricts airflow.

“It’s possible to remove or tighten flabby tissues in the throat – this may include removing the tonsils or adenoids, or part of the uvula or soft palate. Palatal implants may also help by lifting and stiffening the soft palate, making it less likely to vibrate against the uvula during sleep,” she adds. 

You are more likely to snore the older you get. Younger people and children, who snore will often do so because they have large tonsils. Source: Getty

Are certain people more likely to snore?

The short answer is yes. There are at least twice as many men who snore than women, with roughly 40% of men reporting snoring versus 20% of women.

“Men’s soft palates have a larger cross-sectional area, which means there is more tissue that can vibrate and make noise. As well, the area between their epiglottis and hard palate is also larger, so there is the more unsupported soft tissue that can relax, and thus vibrate while sleeping,” explains Wrigglesworth. 

“Men are also prone to put more weight around the neck, restricting airflow.”

When should you see a doctor about snoring?

According to Dr Bradbeer, your GP should be aware of your snoring habits and shouldn’t be dismissed as “just something everybody does”.

It may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, if not now then likely in the future.  So it is something that should be assessed carefully now, and even if you do not have OSA, and the snoring is not too much of a problem now, it should be re-evaluated after a few years,” he said.

Your GP may be able to offer advice on your lifestyle and eating habits, or refer you to a sleep specialist to examine your sleep behaviours through the measurement of brain signals, sleep position, blood oxygen levels, breathing and heart rate. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnoea, there are also a myriad of treatments available to help you achieve a better, smoother night’s sleep.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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