Sleep is something that everyone looks forward to because there’s nothing more satisfying than settling in and winding down to recharge after another busy day. However, if you snore, it can really put a dampener on everything.
Though Just about everyone snores, some of us snore occasionally, after a night of heavy drinking or when we’re sick with a stuffy nose. And it’s usually not something to worry about.
But if you regularly snore at night, it can disrupt the quality of your sleep—leading to daytime fatigue, irritability, and increased health problems.
And if your snoring keeps your partner awake, it can create major relationship problems too. Thankfully, sleeping in separate bedrooms isn’t the only remedy for snoring. There are many effective solutions that can help both you and your partner sleep better at night and overcome the relationship problems caused when one person snores.
What’s a snorer to do?
The first step is understanding the cause behind your snoring. Then you can set about treating it through a variety of behavioral techniques, lifestyle changes, or in more serious cases, medical treatment.
Whether you snore or your partner does, our guide will answer all your questions about snoring. Understand what causes snoring, how to stop snoring, and how to approach communicating about snoring problems in your relationship.
But it all starts with understanding a bit of the science of snoring:
Snoring happens when you can’t move air freely through your airways (nose and throat) during sleep. As air struggles to make it through your airways, it rattles against the tissues in your nose and throat, causing them to vibrate, which in turn produces the familiar snoring sound.
People who snore often have too much throat and nasal tissue or “floppy” tissue that is more prone to vibrate. The position of your tongue can also get in the way of smooth breathing.
How do you know if you snore?
Most people only find out they snore after living with roommates or sharing their bed with a sleeping partner. If you live alone, there’s still a way for you to discover if you snore.
You can self-diagnose potential snoring if any of the following symptoms occur on a regular basis.
Common symptoms of snoring
- You wake up with a headache or dry mouth
- You feel tired during the day
- You wake up suddenly during the night, and not from nightmares
- You wake up during the night wheezing, gasping, or coughing
- You’re getting cavities or experiencing other dental health issues
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s possible you snore – or you have another sleep disorder.
Begin keeping a sleep diary. Note when you sleep and when you wake, your diet and activities from the day, and any suspicious symptoms. All of these can help your doctor provide a diagnosis.
Since people snore for different reasons, it’s important to understand the causes behind your snoring. Once you understand why you snore, you can find the right solutions to a quieter, deeper sleep—for both you and your partner.
What causes snoring?
Snoring occurs whenever your airways are obstructed, impairing your ability to breathe easily while you sleep. The obstruction or narrowing of your airways can result from a variety of causes, temporary or permanent. For example, your breathing tissues may have relaxed from drinking alcohol, you may have enlarged tonsils, or you could have fatty tissue from obesity narrowing your airways.
Causes of snoring
Age. As you reach middle age and beyond, your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases. While you can’t do anything about growing older, lifestyle changes, new bedtime routines, and throat exercises can all help to prevent snoring.
Obesity/Being Over Weight: When you’re overweight, fatty tissues are more likely to obstruct your throat and cause snoring. Also, lack of exercise can lead to poor muscle tone in your throat and neck, causing the tissues that are there to relax onto each other, instead of staying taut and open to facilitate easy breathing.
Obesity is also highly correlated with sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder.
Also note that even if you’re not overweight in general, carrying excess weight just around your neck or throat can cause snoring. Exercising and losing weight can sometimes be all it takes to end your snoring.
Being male: Men are nearly twice as likely to snore than women, simply due to their physical makeup. Men have larger airways, but their larynxes are positioned lower in their neck, leaving space in their throat.
As they sleep, their tongue may fall back into this space, causing snoring. Again, while you have no control over your build or gender, you can control your snoring with the right lifestyle changes, bedtime routines, and throat exercises.
Pregnancy: During pregnancy, some women gain weight, causing the obesity that contributes to snoring. Even without substantial weight gain, the hormone increases that accompany pregnancy can make your mucous membranes swell, causing nasal congestion and subsequent snoring.
Nasal and sinus problems: Blocked airways or a stuffy nose make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring. The most common of these is a deviated septum.
Sinus congestion from illness or allergies: A typical symptom of many illnesses, like the flu or common cold, is a stuffy nose and trouble breathing. People living with chronic allergies experience similar nasal congestion throughout the day or night. Whether caused by illness or allergic rhinitis, this blockage can cause snoring.
Alcohol, smoking, and medications: Alcohol intake, smoking, and certain medications, such as tranquilizers like lorazepam (Ativan) and diazepam (Valium), can increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.
The way you are built: For some people, snoring is just a result of the way they’re built. If you’re born with large tonsils or adenoids, you may be more prone to snore.
Similarly, if you’re born with a large soft palate or uvula, as is common with autism, you’ll be more likely to snore.
Ruling out more serious causes
Snoring could indicate sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder where your breathing is briefly interrupted many times each night.
Normal snoring doesn’t interfere with the quality of your sleep as much as sleep apnea, so if you’re suffering from extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day, it could be an indication of sleep apnea or another sleep-related breathing problem. Call your doctor if you or your sleep partner have noticed any of the following red flags:
- You snore loudly and heavily and are tired during the day.
- You stop breathing, gasp, or choke during sleep.
- You fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as during a conversation or a meal.
Bedtime remedies to help you stop snoring
Change your sleeping position. Elevating your head four inches may ease breathing and encourage your tongue and jaw to move forward. There are specifically designed pillows available to help prevent snoring by making sure your neck muscles are not crimped.
Sleep on your side instead of your back. Try attaching a tennis ball to the back of a pajama top or T-shirt (you can sew a sock to the back of your top then put a tennis ball inside). If you roll over onto your back, the discomfort of the tennis ball will cause you to turn back onto your side. Alternatively, wedge a pillow stuffed with tennis balls behind your back. After a while, sleeping on your side will become a habit and you can dispense with the tennis balls.
Try an anti-snoring mouth appliance. These devices, which resemble an athlete’s mouth guard, help open your airway by bringing your lower jaw and/or your tongue forward during sleep. While a dentist-made appliance can be expensive, cheaper do-it-yourself kits are also available.
Clear nasal passages. If you have a stuffy nose, rinse sinuses with saline before bed. Using a neti pot, nasal decongestant, or nasal strips can also help you breathe more easily while sleeping. If you have allergies, reduce dust mites and pet dander in your bedroom or use an allergy medication.
Keep bedroom air moist. Dry air can irritate membranes in the nose and throat, so if swollen nasal tissues are the problem, a humidifier may help.
Lifestyle changes to help you stop snoring
Losing even a little bit of weight can reduce fatty tissue in the back of the throat and decrease, or even stop, snoring.
If you smoke, your chances of snoring are high. Smoking irritates the membranes in the nose and throat which can block the airways and cause snoring. While quitting is easier said than done, it can bring quick snoring relief.
Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives because they relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing. Also talk to your doctor about any prescription medications you’re taking, as some encourage a deeper level of sleep which can make snoring worse.
Be careful what you eat before bed. Research shows that eating large meals or consuming certain foods such as dairy or soymilk right before bedtime can make snoring worse.
Exercise in general can reduce snoring, even if it doesn’t lead to weight loss. That’s because when you tone various muscles in your body, such as your arms, legs, and abs, this leads to toning the muscles in your throat, which in turn can lead to less snoring. There are also specific exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles in your throat.
Six anti-snoring throat exercises
Studies show that by pronouncing certain vowel sounds and curling the tongue in specific ways, muscles in the upper respiratory tract are strengthened and therefore reduce snoring. The following exercises can help
- Repeat each vowel (a-e-i-o-u) out loud for three minutes a few times a day.
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth. Slide your tongue backwards for three minutes a day.
- Close your mouth and purse your lips. Hold for 30 seconds.
- With your mouth open, move your jaw to the right and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
- With your mouth open, contract the muscle at the back of your throat repeatedly for 30 seconds. Tip: Look in the mirror to see the uvula (“the hanging ball”) move up and down.
- For a more fun exercise, simply spend time singing. Singing can increase muscle control in the throat and soft palate, reducing snoring caused by lax muscles.
Medical treatment for snoring
Sometimes, lifestyle changes and anti-snoring products aren’t enough. If snoring is still disrupting your sleep quality, it may be time for medical intervention. There are various options here.
CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure) is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. If your snoring is caused by your sleep apnea, you will first need to get a sleep study done and be diagnosed with sleep apnea.
From there, the sleep doctor will have you fitted for a CPAP machine. These devices are connected by a tube to a mask you wear on your face while you sleep. Through the tube, the machine delivers a consistent amount of air pressure, keeping your airways open and preventing snoring and sleep apnea.
Multiple anti-snoring surgical procedures have been developed to address specific areas of your airway that are blocked and causing snoring.
- Septoplasty realigns the septum (the piece of cartilage between your nostrils) to enable better airflow.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3 for short) opens your throat by removing the uvula and some of the soft palate.
- Uvuloplasty removes just the uvula, opening up the throat behind the soft palate.
- Somnoplasty uses heat to shrink the throat tissues and widen your airway.
- Tonsillectomy removes enlarged tonsils or adenoids, opening up your throat. This is one of the most common procedures for children with snoring or sleep apnea.
Snoring and relationships
If you sleep with a partner or share your home with roommates, your snoring can tear your relationships apart. People get grumpy when they can’t sleep, especially when they look over and see the person ruining their sleep is apparently dozing away peacefully.
As a result of the snoring, couples may begin sleeping in separate rooms, leading to a lack of intimacy. Resentment grows, and the relationships suffers.
While the snorer suffers from chronic snoring, the non-snoring partner suffers from chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you tired and grumpy.
It affects your cognitive performance, judgment and decision-making skills, and overall emotional balance. On a long-term basis, it leads to adverse health outcomes like diabetesand heart disease. These are serious consequences for something that can usually be resolved or reduced using the many tips we provided above.
Much of the problems snoring causes relationships can be alleviated with proper communication. By talking with each other and brainstorming a plan together to find a solution, the two of you can grow closer – as a couple and towards a future of snore-free sleep.
How to talk to your partner about their snoring
If you’re losing sleep thanks to a snoring partner, you can’t go on ignoring the problem. That will only lead to sleep deprivation, growing resentment, and exhaustion on your part. However, it’s important that you approach the subject sensitively.
Remember, it is possible to alleviate snoring. Chances are, your partner has no idea that they snore or that they’re keeping you awake with their snoring!
Follow these tips to facilitate a thoughtful conversation that leads toward a solution, instead of a fight:
- Set up a time to talk, outside of your bedroom during the daytime. You don’t want to associate your bed, a place of sleeping and intimacy, with conflict. Waking up your partner in a rage isn’t going to get you anywhere.
- Bring up the subject with kindness, understanding, and perhaps even a sense of humor. Your partner may be embarrassed to discover they’ve been snoring, and they may even react with defensiveness. Stay calm and caring, so they know you’re coming from the right place.
- Speaking of place, come from a place of concern, rather than anger. Tell your snoring partner that you’re worried about their snoring because it could be a sign of a larger problem. You can share many of the causes of snoring above. Explain that it is important for their and your health, as well as your relationship, to find a solution.
- Once your partner accepts the truth about their snoring, brainstorm a solution together. Review the list of tips above and start with the lifestyle changes. Keep notes of your efforts so you can track to see what is working.
- Be there for your partner. Your partner is asleep when they snore. They need your help to fix this issue. Let them know if the snoring is getting better or worse as a result of their efforts.
- Be patient. Most of all, you must be patient. While there are many things you can do to stop snoring, it takes time to find the one (or few) things that ultimately work. Be patient during this time, and find ways to ensure you get better sleep.
What to do if your partner is snoring and you can’t sleep
If you share your home or bedroom with a snorer, you of all people are aware of how noise can keep you up at night.
Although the ideal solution is for your partner to stop their snoring entirely, it’s possible the end result will be one where they snore less or more quietly.
While your partner works to resolve their snoring, work on training yourself to sleep better despite the noise. This will help you avoid insomnia and sleep deprivation during this time, or make it easier for you to sleep if their snoring never goes away entirely.
- Get exhausted before bed. Whether it’s from a busy day, a strenuous morning workout, or socializing with friends, the more tired you are by bedtime, the easier it will be to fall asleep, snoring or not.
- Get yourself into a calm state before bed. Follow a bedtime routine of taking a warm bath, using essential oils, or reading a boring book. Once you get into bed, stay focused on staying calm, by practicing deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization techniques.
- Replace one noise with a better noise. Buy a white noise machine or download a white noise smartphone app. These include sound libraries with different colored noise, ambient sounds, and soft music designed to distract your ears and relax you for sleep.
- Use earplugs. These come in different sizes and are made of different materials, so you’re sure to find a pair you find comfortable.
How to accept complaints about your snoring
Now, if, on the other hand, you are the one being approached about your snoring, it’s understandable to feel hurt, defensive or embarrassed. Keep the following in mind for a better mindset while you work on your snoring.
- Don’t take it personal. Your partner or roommate cares about your and your health. Your snoring is not a personality trait; it is a physical problem that’s disrupting your and your partner’s sleep.
- Listen. By hearing them out, you show your partner that you care about them, too. Listening also enables you to communicate more clearly with each other and develop a plan.
- Snoring is a physical issue. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Like a pulled muscle or a common cold, improving the condition is in your hands.
- Stick to your plan. By committing to the lifestyle changes or investing various anti-snoring products, you are more likely to actually stop your snoring. With less snoring, you’ll both enjoy better sleep and better health.
- Take your partner seriously.Avoid minimizing complaints. Lack of sleep is a health hazard and can make your partner feel miserable all day.
- Make it clear that you prioritize the relationship.If you and your partner have this understanding, you’ll both do what it takes to find a cure for the snoring.
- Address inappropriate behavior.Although sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness and irritability, let your partner know that it’s not okay for them to throw an elbow jab or snap at you when you’re snoring.
Where to turn for help
- Find an Otolaryngologist
- Find a Dentist
- Find a sleep center