Q: My boyfriend won’t stop snoring. It is really interfering with our relationship. How can I get him to stop?
A: Snoring is produced by vibration of the soft tissues of the upper airway during sleep. The muscles of our upper airway relax when we sleep, so when we inhale, the same amount of air has to travel through a smaller, ‘floppier’ passageway – hence the honk. Habitual snoring is common, occurring in almost 50% of guys and 25% of gals. Anything that can cause congestion in the nose or throat can make it worse; that’s why you notice it more when you have allergies or a cold. Snoring is generally harmless, besides being really annoying for bed partners or roommates.
However, there is a potentially harmful condition associated with snoring: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This occurs when the airway collapses completely. Now instead of just snoring, the person actually stops breathing! Eventually, the low oxygen levels sets off an internal alarm and the person will awaken with even louder snores and a sensation of choking, gasping, or smothering. This cycle will repeat itself over and over during the night and often the person never wakes up fully enough to know what’s going on; they’ll just notice that they are always tired despite getting a full night’s sleep, or have headaches in the morning. OSA is more common in people who are overweight and/or have short, thick necks. If you have any of the above symptoms, or your sleep partner tells you that you have episodes of not breathing during sleep, you should see your primary health care provider for evaluation. If left untreated, OSA can put you at serious risk for heart and lung problems in the future.
Here are a few things that can be done to improve snoring:
*Weight loss – People who snore that are overweight tend to snore less when they lose weight through diet and exercise. This is also the mainstay of treatment for OSA.
Avoiding tobacco and alcohol – Smoking and drinking alcohol (especially close to bedtime) are both associated with an increased risk of snoring. We’re not exactly sure how smoking makes snoring worse, but drinking alcohol 3-4 hours before sleep tends to relax the soft palate even more.
Sleeping on your side – People who sleep on their back are more likely to snore. Sleeping on your side will improve snoring, but changing sleeping position is very difficult. One method that may work involves fixing a tennis ball to the back of a snug shirt so that it is uncomfortable to sleep on the back.
Decongestants – the nasal passage is the smallest part of the upper airway, so for people who have nasal congestion from allergies or colds, pills or nasal sprays that reduce nasal congestion can help snoring. These don’t help as much if the problem is due to soft palate relaxation.
External nasal dilators – those little plastic strips that you stick on the bridge of your nose can also help snoring. Again, these are more helpful if nasal congestion is the major problem.
Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (OSUCOM)
John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)