Snoring is an incredibly common condition, where a person makes a snorting or rattling noise when they breathe during sleep. It’s caused by the soft palate and tissue in the mouth, nose or throat vibrating. Did you know that the exact sound made by a snorer depends on the type of soft tissue that’s vibrating? If it’s the soft tissue at the back of the nose vibrating, the snorer will produce a quiet, pinched nasal sound. But if the tissues at the top of the mouth (soft palate) and back of the throat (uvula) vibrate, a louder, more guttural sound will be produced. People tend to snore most during the deepest stages of sleep, which occur around 90 minutes after falling asleep, and snore the loudest when sleeping on their backs.
Snoring is defined by a grading system and there are three grades of snoring. Grade one snoring is known as simple snoring, where a person snores quietly and infrequently. Breathing is unaffected and there aren’t any significant health problems associated.
Grade two snoring is where a person snores on a regular basis (more than three days a week). Some people with grade two snoring can experience mild to moderate breathing difficulties during sleep, meaning that they feel tired and sleepy during the day.
Grade three snoring is where a person snores every night and the snoring is so loud that it can be heard from outside the bedroom. Many people with grade three snoring suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), where the airways become partially or totally blocked for around 10 seconds. This means that repeated episodes of snoring and waking can occur throughout the night, and there are a number of health conditions associated with OSA.
As many as one in four people in England snore regularly, with snoring affecting people of all ages. However, it’s most common in adults aged 40-60, with twice as many men as women snoring.
Snoring can lead to excessive tiredness and poor concentration, which should be taken seriously. Excessive daytime sleepiness increases the risk of accidents with the use of machinery and vehicles, with the Department of Transport estimating that one in five road traffic accidents in the UK alone are caused by excessive tiredness.
There are various treatments for snoring – depending on its severity. Firstly, it’s advisable to look at lifestyle changes. Losing weight if you’re overweight, exercising regularly, giving up smoking and not drinking alcohol (particularly just before you go to bed) can all assist with reducing snoring. Sleeping on your side can also help, so make sure you have a mattress that is supportive and designed for side sleeping.
If lifestyle changes don’t help, there are several types of anti-snoring devices available to try. If your snoring is mainly nasal, you can try nasal strips – small pieces of self-adhesive tape that pull the nostrils apart and help stop them narrowing during sleep. There are also nasal dilators – plastic or metal devices that are placed inside the nose and again push the nostrils apart. For mouth snorers, chin strips are strips of tape placed under the chin, which help prevent your mouth falling open while you are asleep. Alternatively, you could try a vestibular shield, which is a plastic device that looks similar to a gum shield. This fits inside the mouth and blocks the flow of air – forcing the snorer to breathe through their nose.
Surgery for snoring is usually regarded as a last resort, and is only considered when all other avenues have been exhausted. It also isn’t helpful in the vast majority of snoring cases. However, if snoring is caused by something obvious such as having large tonsils, surgery to remove them may well be recommended.