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Snoring: What Causes It and How to Treat It

 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the loudest snore recorded measured approximately 111.6 decibels. That is equivalent to a jet flying right over your home. But, it's not a jet; it's a 60-year-old grandmother of four who goes the rounds with her nasal passages every night, much to the dismay of her husband.

Sadly, many people can relate. Studies show about half of us snore at some point in our lives. Snoring is more common in men, though many women snore. It appears to run in families and becomes more common as you get older. About 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women are habitual snorers. Men become less likely to snore after the age of 70. But what causes snoring, and how can you fix it (if not for your sake, then for everyone else's)?

The Causes of Snoring

When you doze off and progress from a light sleep to a deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of your mouth (the soft palate), tongue, and throat relax. The tissues in your throat can relax enough that they partially block your airway and vibrate. The more narrowed your airway, the more forceful the airflow becomes. This causes tissue vibration to increase, which causes your snoring to grow louder and your family to make plans to relocate you to a corner in the garage.

Factors that Increase Snoring

The most common culprits for nightly log-sawing are weight gain, allergies, an irregular sleep position, or medications. But sometimes snoring is a symptom of something more serious. "Snoring can be a sign that a person has obstructive sleep apnea or OSA," says Sarah McConville, MD, assistant professor at University of Utah Health Care. "It's important to know about OSA because it can disrupt sleep and lead to symptoms of daytime sleepiness, low energy, and fatigue." OSA is also a risk factor for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

Another surprising contributor to snoring is sleep deprivation. "When we try to catch up after periods of sleep deprivation, snoring can be more severe due to changes in our sleep architecture during this 'make-up' sleep," says McConville.

Ways to Reduce Snoring

All it takes is two hours of watching late-night home shopping channels to realize that there are many home remedies and devices available for snoring sufferers. And some actually do work. Keep in mind, over-the-counter devices such as pillows or mouthpieces may help with snoring, but that will vary quite a bit from person to person. "For people who have sleep apnea, it's important to know that over-the-counter products for snoring are almost always different than FDA-approved therapies for sleep apnea and that improvement in snoring may not indicate effective treatment of sleep apnea," says McConville.

Snoring sufferers should talk with a healthcare provider to rule out serious underlying causes. Then, try adding some simple lifestyle changes that are effective at quieting the nighttime roar:

Lose weight.

Mild weight gain may not feel like much, but those extra pounds are wrecking your good night's sleep. Be sure to exercise at least 30 minutes every day for better circulation, weight loss, and optimal sleep

Try positional therapy.

Also known to the layperson as strategic pillow arranging, positional therapy is an easy way to banish the local "snorechestra" from warming up for an encore performance. "Some people find that they only snore when sleeping on their back," says McConville. Arranging pillows to prevent rolling into a position that encourages snoring means sweet dreams for everyone.

Reduce alcohol intake.

Some people rely on a relaxing glass of a favorite beverage to wind down and prepare for sleep. But in most cases, too much of a good thing creates the perfect environment for snoring. Alcohol consumption makes the jaw and throat muscles relax so much that they block the airways. The restricted airway causes tissue to vibrate, which is what others hear as snoring. An alternative is to reduce the amount consumed or drink alcohol earlier in the evening.

Everyone needs at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night; it's an essential part of good health. But when counting sheep is invaded by the "cheesy weezer" snoring in the other room, it's time to take action. By adopting some easy changes and checking with a healthcare provider, a night that is free from snoring will mean a good night's sleep in no time.