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Snoring is a very common problem: More than half of the respondents in a National Sleep Foundation poll said other people have told them they snore. Among snorers, 64 percent say their snoring can be as loud as talking, and one in six say they snore so loudly it can be heard in the next room.
Snoring usually is a sign that your upper airway is compromised in some way. During sleep, the muscles in the mouth, throat, and upper airway relax. When this happens, these muscles and the tissues they support sag and partially block air intake. As you inhale more deeply, you pull more of this tissue into your airway. The snoring noise comes from the vibrations of the sagging tissue as air passes through the narrowed opening. (Incidentally, how loudly you snore does not always indicate the severity of your breathing problem.)
Research has linked loud snoring with a higher risk of several health problems. One study showed that loud snorers were 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, 34 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and 67 percent more likely to have a stroke than people who do not snore. Quiet snoring was associated only with an increased risk of high blood pressure in women.
In the most severe cases, the sagging tissue repeatedly blocks airflow to the lungs during the night—a condition called OSA. This condition interrupts your breathing and decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood.
The tendency to snore increases with age. In women, snoring increases after menopause begins. Risk factors also include being overweight or obese, smoking, alcohol consumption, and the use of sedating medications, tranquilizers, or muscle relaxants.
The environment also may play a role in snoring. In one study, researchers found that short-term rises in temperature and particulate matter (air pollution) were associated with breathing abnormalities during sleep.
In some cases, losing weight can help resolve snoring by reducing the amount of excess tissue in the throat. Most snorers snore more frequently and loudly when they sleep on their backs. Some people sew half a tennis ball into their pajama backs or buy “anti-snore” belts, shirts, or other devices that prevent back sleeping.
Over-the-counter adhesive strips that stretch across the nostrils or small plastic cones inserted inside the nostrils can widen the nostrils to admit more air. Nasal and decongestant sprays can reduce airway swelling, but the effects are often temporary.
Some people use a mouth guard that repositions the lower jaw and the tongue to reduce snoring; this is an appliance that can be obtained from and fitted by a dentist.
In some cases, surgery that reduces the amount of excess tissue and removes the tonsils or nasal obstructions can relieve or lessen snoring. If sleep apnea is present, other treatment options need to be considered.
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