What causes snoring?

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It’s National Stop Snoring Week 22-28 April. Snoring can affect your sleep, mental health, physical health and relationships, and may also indicate sleep apnoea. So, what causes it – and is it treatable, asks Alison Runham

What causes snoring?
Snoring occurs when parts of your oral or nasal airways vibrate as you breathe due to a restriction, which may be permanent or only occur when your muscles relax during sleep. Factors that can contribute to snoring include:

being overweight
smoking
drinking too much alcohol
sleeping on your back
taking sedatives or muscle relaxants
being middle-aged or older, as your muscle tone decreases

Tackling snoring
Try lifestyle changes, and ensure you sleep on your side (a tennis ball taped to the back of your nightwear or a bed wedge can help). Struggle to sleep on your side? Elevate your torso with a bed wedge. If this doesn’t help, you need to identify the cause of your snoring by using The British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association’s questionnaires at britishsnoring.co.uk/itests to find suitable treatment.

Problem: Your tongue partially blocks your throat.
Solution: A mandibular advancement device, which helps to bring your tongue forward.

Problem: Your mouth falls open when you’re asleep.
Solutions: A chin strap, or a vestibular shield (worn in your mouth to make you breathe through your nose).

Problem: Blocked or narrow nasal airways.
Solutions: Nasal dilators or strips that hold your nose open, or sprays to reduce nasal swelling.

If these solutions don’t work, see your GP. They may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Surgery is sometimes suggested, but it’s not widely available on the NHS and isn’t always successful, particularly long-term.

Could you have sleep apnoea?

Symptoms include:

loud snoring or breathing, especially when lying on your back, with your mouth open
short periods when you stop breathing, gasp or snort
Risk factors include those for snoring, but also include:
a large neck (17+ inches for men, 15+ for women)
a narrowed or obstructed airway
nasal congestion
family history of OSA (see below)

OSA (obstructive sleep apnoea) occurs when the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse.
Apnoea: total blockage of the airway for 10 seconds or more.
Hypopnoea: partial blockage that causes an airflow reduction of over 50% for 10 seconds or more.
OSA sufferers may have repeated episodes of apnoea and/or hypopnoea throughout the night.
CSA (central sleep apnoea) is much rarer, occurring mainly in older people, opioid users, and heart failure or stroke sufferers. The brain temporarily ‘forgets’ to tell your body to breathe.

Don’t ignore symptoms as sleep apnoea increases risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, heart attack, heart disease and arrhythmia, type 2 diabetes (although possibly linked to the obesity risk factor) and gradual loss of brain function. OSA treatments include lifestyle changes, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that delivers compressed air through a mask, preventing your airway closing, a mandibular advancement device or surgery, if your OSA is caused by a physical problem that can be surgically corrected.

The British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association: britishsnoring.co.uk

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