Question: My husband has a terrible snoring problem. I sometimes have to flee into the spare room to get some sleep. Can you help?
G.V., via email
Answer: Snoring is the sound made when the soft palate and other tissues of the mouth, nose and throat (the upper airways) vibrate because there’s a blockage somewhere along the airway. This can be due to a number of factors, so the first step is to find out whether the cause can be fixed.
Here are some of the most common causes of snoring.
1 Overweight. Having excess fat and poor muscle tone can contribute to snoring. Even just carrying extra weight around your neck can create a partial blockage that can result in snoring. Exercising and losing weight might be all your husband needs to do to end his snoring—and your sleepless nights!
2 Age. From middle-age onwards, muscle tone in the throat diminishes and the throat gradually narrows. There’s not much you can do about getting older, but throat exercises a few times a week—like repeating vowel sounds out loud and moving your jaw from side to side (holding it on each side for 30 seconds at a time)—can help.
3 Your genes. Men are more likely to snore than women, as their air passages are narrower. Certain minor and often hereditary physical peculiarities, like a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids (glands) and a narrow throat, can contribute to snoring.
4 Alcohol, smoking and drugs. Drinking, smoking, vaping and the use of certain drugs, including tranquillizers like lorazepam and diazepam, can increase muscle relaxation in the throat, which, again, can lead to
5 Nasal and sinus problems. Blocked airways or a stuffy nose make breathing difficult, leading to snoring. Dealing with
any underlying breathing problems may stop the snoring.
6 Sleep posture. When you sleep on your back, the flesh around your throat can block the airway. If your husband is a back-sleeper, try getting him to sleep on his side.
Therapies for snoring
If you’ve already tried addressing the possible causes listed opposite and the snoring has persisted, or there’s nothing you can do about the cause or you just haven’t been able to work it out, then here are some tried-and-tested treatments you could try.
Singing. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea—where the muscles in the throat become floppy during sleep, causing an obstruction that makes the sufferer temporarily stop breathing—can result from weak muscles in the soft palate and upper throat (the pharyngeal muscles). Serious singers can improve the tone and strength of their pharyngeal muscles by practising certain vocal exercises, and this might be a useful technique for snorers too.
In a randomized controlled trial carried out by the Royal Devon & Exeter National Health Service Foundation Trust, 127 chronic snorers or sleep apnoea sufferers were randomly assigned to either a programme of self-guided singing exercises, based on three CDs, lasting about 20 minutes a day for three months, or no intervention (controls).
The results showed that the daily singing exercises, which strengthened the tone of the throat muscles, reduced the severity, frequency and loudness of the snoring, while improving sleep quality. No such changes were seen in the controls, who didn’t do the exercises.1
You can order Alise Ojay’s Singing for Snorers triple CD box set and explanatory booklet from www.singingforsnorers.com.
Anti-snoring devices. A device called the SnoreMender was effective for treating snoring in a small controlled study of 25 men and one woman conducted by Danish dental surgeon Natashia Ingemarsson-Matzen. In her study, 91 per cent of the participants succeeded in reducing their snoring by at least 50 per cent, and 78 per cent of them stopped snoring completely.2
The device is made of medical-grade dental thermoplastic, and is free of latex, silicone, phthalates and bisphenol A; it can easily be shaped to fit the wearer’s mouth by being twisted and tweaked as necessary (by either the wearer or a dentist).
However, some people should not be exposed to the pressure of wearing such a device (those with loose teeth or periodontal disease, for example), so your husband should first see a dentist to discuss whether the device is suitable. Any nasal congestion should also be addressed before trying it out.
SnoreMender is available online at www.snoremenders.co.uk, while a similar device called SnorBan can be purchased from www.snorban.co.uk.
Alternatively, a simple chinstrap on its own was shown in a case report to improve snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea as well as—or better than—CPAP therapy (see box above), which is orthodoxy’s ‘gold-standard’ treatment for the condition.3 A more recent study found that using a chinstrap with CPAP maximized adherence to the treatment and its effects too.4 These inexpensive straps are widely available online and from health shops.
Conventional snoring and apnoea treatments
The most common treatments are nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and surgery.
With CPAP, you have to sleep with a mask strapped to your face that is attached to a hose through which air is delivered to the snorer or apnoea sufferer under pressure. The CPAP paraphernalia require a great deal of constant necessary hygienic attention and can be a significant inconvenience when trying to sleep. A substantial number (around 20 per cent) of users end up just abandoning the therapy.
Various surgical interventions, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) and somnoplasty, are procedures that, in addition to their generally poor success rates, also have a number of persistent adverse effects, such as prolonged pain and injury to the mucous membranes of the soft palate, uvula and mouth, difficulty swallowing and the constant feeling of a ‘lump in the throat’. They can even lead to voice changes.1