Snoring? Little Things That Make a Big Difference

October 23rd, 2016

starry nightSnore? Just a little chortle? Or, you know you snore loudly, but you think it isn’t a big deal-it’s not ruining your sleep? Think again! You may not realize how much your sleep is disrupted–and how a few sinple changes may help.

Maybe you don’t know whether you snore or not, you just know that you don’t sleep well and you don’t awaken feeling rested. Maybe you just developed high blood pressure. What you may not know is that a sleep problem could be the reason.

Snoring may seem innocent enough–not worth the trouble to do anything about, let alone go to your doctor and get a full evaluation. But snoring can make a big difference in your health. In a bad way! It can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure, non-restorative sleep and accelerated aging—not to mention angry, irritable, tired family members. Don’t ignore it because you think that the only ways to fix it are high tech, high hassle and high cost. Not true! There are a number of little things you can try to make it better.

Do you want to know if you snore–or how bad it is? Do you have a bed partner who needs to be convinced? The answer can be as simple as downloading an app on your smartphone, such as Snore Clock, Dream Talk Recorder, Sleep Talk Recorder, and Snore Lab. (Read the reviews on these apps and other similar ones.)

If snoring isn’t severe, or if finances are an issue, try some so-it-yourself approaches before going on to the next step, which is a formal evaluation of your sleep and snoring, along with whatever other sleep disruptions that are lurking in the background.

A bit of technical detail: A formal evaluation of sleep and snoring is aptly called a Sleep Study. During a Sleep Study, electrical activity in your brain showing stages of sleep (or non-sleep), breathing, body position and leg movements are monitored, along with any episodes of apnea (periods of no breathing accompanied by sudden waking) that you may have. A Sleep Study can be done in a hospital, office or at home.

Beware of the common myth that all sleep disorders are because of snoring, and all snoring has the same cause and is treated the same way. Not so! There are many causes, and many ways to treat snoring. (Even if you do have sleep apnea, you can attack it on several fronts!)

Here are some things you can try:

• Don’t drink alcohol before bed. You snore when your tongue falls back and blocks the air passageway in your throat. Alcohol relaxes muscles—including the ones that maintain your tongue in position in your mouth when you’re lying down, rather than flopping back against the back of your throat and blocking the air passage for breathing.

• Tone your neck muscles. (See the reasoning above on alcohol.) Do snoring exercises—find them on you tube. Learn to play the recorder, saxophone or Peruvian panpipes—any wind instrument. Start singing: join a choir or sing in the shower. Yodel if you live alone! (Quick case study: a woman started snoring when she spent the winter in Florida, living away from her family and working remotely. It stopped when she moved back North in the spring. She realized that with no people around, she had stopped talking during the day. Her throat muscles weakened!)

• Treat your allergies, with over the counter drugs, supplements, or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Use a decongestant as well, if you need to. There are saline based sprays on the market that don’t cause jitteriness. Allergy-proof your bedroom, get a room air purifier, try to keep the cat off the bed. Why? Swollen nasal and throat passages mean less room for air to get through.

• Get a better pillow, preferably one specifically designed to prevent snoring. You can find these in specialty sleep stores and back pain stores. (On the subject of pillows, how old are your pillows? After a few years, they’re loaded with dust mites, which can worsen allergies, which can worsen snoring…you get the picture.)

• Treat reflux if you have it. Acid reflux can irritate your throat and cause swelling and inflammation, narrowing the air passage.

• Try sleeping on your side (preferably your left side). This makes it less likely for your tongue to block the air passage. Why the left side? The intake valve in your stomach is on the right side, not on top. Lying on the right shifts acidic stomach contents directly on the valve, whereas the valve is on top if you’re on your left side. Reflux is slightly less likely.

• Lose weight. This really helps, usually more than any other lifestyle change! (I put this one last because I didn’t want to scare you off.) Weighing less also reduces the risk of some of the health conditions that snoring causes, like high blood pressure. Think of losing weight as a vicious cycle in reverse, a jump start to all-around better health. (This isn’t easy–see someone who can help.)

Still snoring?

• Think seriously about getting a Sleep Study prescription from your doctor.

• Get a prescription for a Tongue Stabilizing Device from your doctor. This little plastic gadget holds your tongue forward, to make more room for air. It takes a little getting used to, but many patients say it’s worth it.

• Ask your dentist for an Adjustable Positioner that hooks onto your teeth and pulls your whole jaw forward. Not all dentists are familiar with this—it may take some sleuthing.

Still snoring?

• If your sleep study shows that you have sleep apnea, look into CPAP—“continuous positive air pressure” via a machine that delivers humidified air through a mask, with enough pressure to overcome the blockage of your air passage. For many snorers, it’s the optimal treatment. A “Nasal Pillow” is a relatively unobtrusive “mask” that just fits over the nose. Most people adjust to it well.

Not everyone needs CPAP, especially if they make lifestyle changes. Don’t bow out of a Sleep Study because you think it inevitably leads to a CPAP mask—it doesn’t!

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