Do you – or someone you share a bed with – snore like a freight train? Lifestyle changes and natural treatments for snoring can restore peace to your nighttime.
Imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep with the sound of a vacuum cleaner in your bed. Average snoring falls between 50 and 80 decibels (db), though some snorers can hit 90 db or higher. With a vacuum cleaner at approximately 70 db, and a jackhammer at about 100 db, it’s clear why snorers and their bedmates often wake up tired and irritable.
About 50 percent of adults snore at some point, making it a widespread and noisy problem. Lifestyle changes and natural treatments can help alleviate snoring, leading to a restful, restorative sleep. They may even improve your relationship.
What causes snoring?
When we fall asleep, the muscles in the roof of our mouth (soft palate), tongue, and throat relax, and the tissues in our throats may partially block our airways. The narrower our airways, the more forcefully we breathe. The more forcefully we breathe, the more our tissues vibrate and the louder we snore. For about 40 to 45 percent of men and 25 to 30 percent of women, habitual snoring is a nightly occurrence.
The extent and reason for the blockage vary. For some people, anatomical problems in the mouth, throat, and jaw are the culprits. Extra throat tissue, large tonsils/adenoids (made up of lymphatic tissue), a low or thick soft palate, or a long uvula (which hangs from the soft palate) can block airways, causing snoring. So, too, can small chins or overbites, particularly in women.
For others, congestion due to a cold, flu, or allergies; nasal polyps; or a deviated septum (an abnormality in the wall that separates the two nostrils) restricts nasal passages.
Gender, age, and lifestyle play a role. Men generally have narrower throats, while aging further narrows the throat and decreases muscle tone for both men and women. Being overweight or pregnant may cause extra tissue to form at the back of the throat. If our parents snore, we might too. Snoring is thought to run in families.
Smoking, alcohol, and medications such as sedatives, sleeping pills, and antihistamines can over-relax mouth and throat muscles, partially closing the airways.
More than just noise
Occasional snorers may have the odd bad night and feel tired the next day. If the snoring becomes habitual, however, the wear and tear on our bodies adds up. Its effects can range from psychological problems to more physical ones, including
- frustration and anger
- daytime tiredness
- risk of car accidents due to sleepiness and slower reaction time
- poor or reduced concentration, coordination, or memory
- aggression or learning problems, particularly in children
- disruption of bed partner’s sleep, lack of intimacy, and relationship problems
- high blood pressure, heart conditions, and stroke, for those with sleep apnea
Snoring that ends with gasping or choking for air is the main symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition, in which sufferers stop breathing multiple times during sleep, can result in heart problems and even death. More than 858,900 Canadian adults (3 percent) have been diagnosed with OSA. More people, often snorers, remain undiagnosed and at risk.
Stop the snoring
Snoring treatments range from lifestyle changes and natural remedies (see sidebar on page 80) to medical intervention.
- For moderate or occasional snoring, try behavioural changes.
- Losing weight is one of the best ways to reduce or stop snoring, while also improving overall health.
- Exercise to tone muscles and improve breathing and lung capacity.
- Try removing mucus-causing foods such as bananas, dairy products, eggs, wheat, meat, and soy from your diet to see if it makes a difference in decreasing congestion.
- Change your sleeping position. Fight gravity’s downward pull on your tongue and throat by sleeping on your side. Use commercial products that help stop you rolling onto your back or create a DIY version by sewing a tennis ball to the back of your pyjamas. To keep your tongue and jaw forward, elevate the head of your bed about 10 cm or use a specially designed pillow to lengthen your neck muscles.
- Cut out or down on alcohol, stop smoking, and, if possible, avoid taking antihistamines and sedatives at night. Ask your health care practitioner for alternatives and advice.
- Keep your bedroom free of allergens, dust, and pets. Vacuum often and wash and replace pillows frequently. Use a humidifier to keep nose and throat tissue moisturized.
- Improve muscle control in your throat, mouth, and upper respiratory system through music. Though unconventional and perhaps surprising, research has found that snorers who played the didgeridoo, a long Australian wind instrument, snored less. One older study also showed singing exercises for 20 to 25 minutes daily to be helpful.
Severe, habitual snoring or snoring associated with obstructive sleep apnea may require medical treatments such as
- specially fitted sleep masks that use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
- oral appliances, similar to a retainer or mouth guard
Traditional medicine is filled with remedies for occasional or non-severe snoring, often by relieving congestion. While conventional nasal sprays do the same, they can have a rebound effect that worsens congestion.
The natural remedies and treatments below are meant to help loosen, thin, and remove congestion and/or moisturize nasal and throat passages. Some of these substances also have natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.
- nasal irrigation, such as with a neti pot
- homeopathic remedies such as Arsenicum album, Sambucus, and Spongia
- aromatherapy, such as eucalyptus oil to clear the airways (check with your health care practitioner first, as aromatherapy isn’t for everyone)
- anti-snoring sprays and gargle formulations containing a blend of herbs and oils such as peppermint, lemon, clove, sage, thyme, and eucalyptus
Acupuncture or auricular (ear) acupoint pressing may also help lessen snoring by removing blockages and is believed to realign the body’s energy flow.
Note: researchers are only recently studying natural treatments rigorously, so use them carefully and under the supervision of a health care professional. Also note that sleep apnea is potentially life-threatening and requires medical intervention.