Snoring… Is it More Than Just a Nuisance?

Let’s face it… Most of us in our “seasoned” years snore. If you don’t think you snore, you might be surprised to find out you actually do. If you ever wake up out of a sound sleep feeling as if something woke you… well… that something could have been your own snoring.

We often joke about snoring, making fun of our spouses, parents, friends, and ourselves. But snoring is not always so funny, and it may become a more serious issue as we age. Sometimes, snoring can be our body’s way of telling us that something is not right. Heavy snoring may be a symptom of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.

Typical snoring is caused when the soft tissues in the throat area vibrate as we breathe during sleep. People with sleep apnea not only snore; they actually stop breathing, perhaps hundreds of times in one night. Sleep apnea affects the quality of sleep and causes excessive fatigue during the day. The condition also limits the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and other parts of the body. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to health issues that may threaten our health and wellbeing.

Researchers from New York University identified a connection between sleep apnea and the early onset of memory and cognitive problems. Their findings showed that people with sleep apnea diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) receive the diagnosis an average of 10 years earlier than people who do not have breathing issues while they sleep. Mild cognitive impairment is when there’s enough of a decline in memory and thinking functions to cause a problem that becomes noticeable to other people, but probably isn’t bad enough to affect daily functions.

The good news from the NYU study is that researchers also found that the risk of MCI can be reduced in people with sleep apnea by treating the condition. In fact, the age of onset of MCI for study participants who were treated for their breathing issues was about the same as in the study participants who never had apnea or nighttime breathing problems.

If you snore regularly and continue to snore no matter what position you’re sleeping in and/or you feel very tired during the day, let your doctor know. Sleep apnea may be the cause. The condition is very easy to identify and treatment is available. You may need to see a sleep specialist. Many hospitals now have sleep disorder programs designed specifically for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with sleep disorders.

A few helpful tips...

The following tips may help prevent or quiet typical snoring symptoms that aren’t excessive or a threat to health and well-being.

  • Avoid sleeping on your back. Snoring is usually a lot worse when sleeping on your back. That’s because lying on your back allows the tongue and tissues in the throat to relax, which narrows the airway and partially obstructs the path each breath takes. Sleeping on your side can help prevent the problem. Many people find that sleeping on their side next to a full body pillow keeps them from rolling on to their back during the night. Others actually find quite ingenious ways to stay on their side, like adhering a tennis ball to the back of their pajamas so they won’t be comfortable sleeping on their back.

  • Clear out your nasal passages. If you have allergies or a cold that clogs your nose, you may find you make quite a bit of racket trying to breathe while asleep. Treat the nasal congestion and you’ll be less likely to snore. Your doctor may suggest medications to help. Some people find that taking a warm shower before bed or sleeping with a humidifier in the bedroom opens up the nasal passages and makes it easier to breathe.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. People carrying too much weight may have extra tissue in the throat area that can put additional pressure on the inside of the throat and cause snoring. But, remember, thin people also snore. If you began snoring or your snoring intensified after gaining weight, taking off the extra pounds may help. Of course, maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent many other health problems as well.

  • Stay well hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a common cause of snoring. If your body isn’t getting enough water, the throat area can become dry and the secretions in your nose can thicken. This can make breathing more of an effort and lead to snoring. Many people find that drinking a glass of water before getting into bed helps, although it may mean an extra trip to the bathroom might be needed during the night.

  • Keep your sleeping environment as free of allergens as possible. Allergens can contribute to snoring so make sure to dust your bedroom often and thoroughly. Also refrain from sleeping with your pets, as difficult as it may be, because animal dander is a common allergy trigger.

  • Replace your pillows regularly. Unfortunately, pesky dust mites are often responsible for allergy symptoms and they accumulate in pillows. Many people hold on to the same bed pillows for years or even decades. It might be a good idea to think about replacing your pillows about every six months. Putting your pillows through the air fluff cycle of your dryer every couple weeks or so will help keep dust mites and other allergens to a minimum.

  • Avoid consuming alcohol before going to bed. Lots of people believe having a glass of wine or some other alcohol-based beverage before heading off to bed will help them sleep better. Not so. Yes, that drink might help you fall asleep faster, but it will also make snoring much more likely by causing your throat muscles to become loose and relaxed. Plenty of folks who do not normally snore will become human trumpets after having a night cap or two.

  • Take all those promises from over-the-counter snoring aids “with a grain of salt.” Although you can find a host of snore reduction paraphernalia on the market, many have no real scientific research to back up their claims. Even the popular nasal strips offer relief only to a select group of snorers. A nasal strip opens up the nasal passage, which helps if snoring is related to the nose itself but won’t help issues in the throat area. Your doctor will be able to tell you if a nasal strip will be helpful for you.

  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoke inhaled into the lungs first passes through the upper airways. Smoke causes irritation and inflammation in the throat and even the nasal cavity, which can make it more difficult to breathe and cause snoring. Of course, smoking has been proven to lead to many other serious health issues as well.

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