One of the most common – and often embarrassing – sleep complaints we have is that of snoring. Not only can it interrupt our own sleep, but that of our partners, families and anybody else living under the same roof. This often creates interference with rest and leads to fatigue, irritability and other problems including sore throats and nasal pain for the snorer.
In severe cases, the muscle fibres of the pharynx may become particularly destabilized and damaged, which may progress to the much more serious condition sleep apnoea. So what causes it, and what can be done to address this all-too-common problem?
What is snoring?
Snoring is the sound that takes place when the structures of the oral cavity, nasopharynx and throat vibrate loudly. This is caused by the movement of air through the nasal and oral passages being obstructed, resulting in a distinctive noise accompanying breathing that can range from the quiet and unobtrusive to the extremely loud, impacting the sleep of the person and anybody in their vicinity.
There are a number of causes of snoring, and as with anything, figuring out which one applies to the individual in question is key to addressing the problem and figuring out a solution. These causes can range from malpositioning of the jaw and teeth, or the combination of a drooping tongue and overly relaxed musculature, through to nasal congestion, obesity, acid reflux, too-dry air in the sleep environment, alcohol and food intolerances. It can also be as a result of the width and therefore weight of the neck.
How to help relieve snoring?
One of the leading causes of snoring is congestion of the nasal passages, which creates snoring either by direct obstruction of the airways or encouraging a person to breathe through their mouth, which increases the chances of snoring. This can be a temporary issue resulting from a cold or flu virus, or a more chronic problem. For those suffering viral rhinitis, a number of approaches may help. These can include the use of herbal medicines such as Echinacea, astragalus, andrographis and olive leaf to support immune function during times of illness, and nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and vitamins A and D3 to further support optimal immune health. Peppermint and horseradish can both be used to help open airways. Thyme, garlic, ginger and kawakawa may be helpful for the body’s response to infections, and essential oils of peppermint and eucalyptus are well-known for their effects on sinus congestion. These essential oils may be used in humidifiers, vapourisers, and other essential oil diffusing equipment to assist in maintaining open airways at night.
Humidify the room
Often snoring can be provoked by too-dry air in the sleeping environment, which leads in turn to dry mouth and throat, increasing the chances of snoring taking place. This can be a problem especially during very dry weather, or when air conditioners or heaters are in frequent use. Humidifying machines can help remedy this problem, assisting with normalizing humidity levels in the room and preventing passages from drying out.
One of the biggest risk factors for snoring is being overweight or obese. This is because excess body fat can accumulate within the structures of the nose and throat, creating obstructions for the air passing through when breathing, and leading to an increased risk of not only snoring but sleep apnoea too.
Sleep apnoea is a potentially very serious condition where the person stops breathing for a time whilst sleeping, often waking up after an episode, though not always. Sleep apnoea is associated with serious fatigue, insomnia, and increased risk of mortality.
If weight issues are a factor in a person’s snoring, the obvious solution is to look into ways to manage the weight and shed pounds to reach a more healthy size. This can be a huge task for many people, with many factors involved.
Good guidelines for most people include:
- Eating plenty of whole foods on a daily basis, mostly vegetables, fruit, eggs, soaked/activated nuts and seeds, and meat, whilst avoiding anything overly processed and packaged. Inflammatory foods tend to be those high in sugar, refined vegetable oils, artificial additives and colours, and are generally low in nutrition.
- Eat plenty of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi, all of which are high in probiotics that support good digestive function and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Get out and get active, whether that be joining a sports team or simply walking around the block a few times each day. Being active helps your metabolism, boosts motivation and releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, all while burning calories.
- Get your thyroid checked, as thyroid issues are relatively common in New Zealand and are directly linked to weight gain, particularly if thyroid function is too low.
Digestive function may also play a role in snoring, for several reasons. Poor digestion can lead to weight gain and weight problems, as discussed above. It may also create snoring if acid reflux is present, which can create inflammation in the lower oesophagus. Digestive herbs such as marshmallow, aloe vera, licorice, fenugreek and ginger may assist with digestion, and mucilage-rich herbs may support healing of the tissues from reflux.
Eating bitter foods such as rocket, or taking a shot of apple cider vinegar prior to a meal, can stimulate digestive acid and minimize the chances of reflux.
Avoid dairy and allergens
Dairy is known to create increased levels of mucous throughout the nasal passages, which can in turn lead to snoring as the airways are obstructed. For this reason, sufferers may wish to reduce the amount of dairy in their diet, and some may find relief from taking digestive enzymes specific to dairy digestion if they really struggle to eliminate it from their daily diet.
Likewise, alcohol can relax muscle structures too much, and is well-known as a trigger for episodes of snoring. As such, cutting out alcohol consumption can be a simple remedy.
For those suffering dustmite and other airborne allergens, keeping the sleep environment clean, well-vacuumed, and mattresses aired and bedding changed regularly will help reduce the number of allergens in the environment.
Other methods to relieve snoring
- Buteyko breathing is a method of retraining the way you breathe, and may be of use for those suffering chronic snoring and other respiratory conditions.
- Dental devices can be purchased from dentists to aid in keeping airways open and preventing the tongue from drooping back at night, triggering snoring.
- Other sleep devices are available through your GP to support open airways.
- Side sleeping may also help in some cases
We’d Love Your Feedback
Does snoring frustrate you or your partner?
What is your way to help relieve snoring?