00:00 Saturday 24 July 2010  Written by David Caren

Snore Wars a constant battle

Just about everyone snores occasionally. Snoring is common, especially in men, about half of all men snore at some stage, and about 25% of men snore regularly. But snoring can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep and in turn can lead to fatigue, irritability, and increased health problems.

Many a happy relationship has reached or gone beyond breaking point as a direct result of broken sleep patterns. And as if tempers weren't frayed enough, snorers rarely apologise, denying there is a problem at all, being only concerned about the bruising in their ribs in the shape of a female elbow!

Studies have shown that many couples identify snoring as a source of severe arguments, often leading to the non-snorer going to another room to try and get a decent night's sleep. This obviously has an impact on the couple's sex life. That said, another big downside of snoring is erectile dysfunction. According to studies, 50% of snoring men present this problem.

Discovering the cause of your snoring and finding the right cure will vastly improve your health, your sleep and of course your relationship.

When you're awake, muscles in your nose, mouth and throat keep your airways open. This allows you to breathe freely. However, when you're asleep, your muscles relax. This means the airways can sometimes close up, preventing the air from getting in or out easily. When this happens and you try to breathe, the soft tissue in your mouth, nose and throat vibrates, making noise; this is what we call snoring.

By itself, snoring isn't considered harmful. However, if you snore you may also have a more serious condition called sleep apnoea. If you have sleep apnoea you repeatedly stop breathing at intervals throughout the night and then wake up. Serious risks of sleep apnoea include sleep deprivation, oxygen deprivation and depression. In addition, sleep apnoea syndrome has adverse effects on the heart and blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of heart arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke.

Check with your spouse / partner if there is any time during snoring when your breathing diminishes or stops for a few seconds or more followed by a grunt or a gasp.

There are several factors that can make you more likely to snore. As you reach middle age and beyond your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases. Men are two-and-a-half times more likely to snore as women - some of whom snore only when they are pregnant, while most tend to start during or after the menopause, indicating that hormones play a role. Men have narrower air passages than women. A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids and other physical attributes (which contribute to snoring) can be hereditary.

Certain physical characteristics make you more likely to snore including a receding lower jaw, blocked nose, enlarged tonsils and having low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

Lifestyle factors play an integral role in why we snore, this includes:

Being overweight.

Alcohol, smoking and certain medications increase muscle relaxation, leading to more snoring.

Nasal and sinus problems. Blocked airways make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring. If you suffer from allergies you are likely to have a blocked, itchy and runny nose.

Sleep posture. Sleeping flat on your back causes the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway.

There are several ways you can control your snoring.

If you're overweight, make changes to your lifestyle so that you can lose some weight.

Reduce your alcohol intake.

Quit smoking.

Change your sleeping position. When you lie flat on your back, your tongue is more likely to fall back into your throat and block your airway. By sleeping on your side, or by having your head and shoulders slightly tilted upwards, you're less likely to snore.

Try the 'tennis ball trick': Sleep with a tennis ball attached to the back of your pyjama top. (You can sew or safety-pin a sock to the back of the pyjama top then put a tennis ball in it.) The tennis ball is uncomfortable if you lie on your back, and you will respond by turning on your side. Soon you will develop side-sleeping as a habit and not need the tennis ball.

Elevating your head four inches may also ease breathing.

Clear nasal passages. Having a stuffy nose makes inhalation difficult and creates a vacuum in your throat, which in turn leads to snoring.

Establish regular sleep patterns.

Nasal strips: Adhesive nasal strips applied to your nose can help increase the size of the nasal passage and help the breathing.

Keep the bedroom air moist with a humidifier. Dry air can irritate membranes in the nose and throat.

Research also shows that consuming certain foods and medicines right before bedtime can make snoring worse, including large meals, dairy products, sleeping pills and caffeine.

Throat exercises: Pronouncing certain vowel sounds and curling the tongue in specific ways. Singing also increases muscle control in the throat and soft palate, reducing snoring caused by lax muscles.

Go Rolf Harris - studies show that learning to play a didgeridoo can strengthen the soft palate and throat thereby reducing snoring.

If you are concerned about your snoring or having sleep apnoea, talk to your GP about it. It's often useful if your spouse/ partner attends the appointment as they can describe the pattern and duration of the snoring. It is recommended that the couple keeps a sleep diary.

Your GP may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist or recommend that you see a dentist. If your GP thinks you have sleep apnoea you might be referred to a specialist at a sleep clinic. These are centres where you are monitored while you sleep, to help diagnose sleep apnoea.

The treatment of sleep apnoea syndrome has been revolutionised by the delivery of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). To keep your airway open during sleep, a machine at your bedside blows pressurised air into a mask that you wear over your nose or face.

Mouthpieces that help advance the position of your tongue and soft palate to keep your air passage open can be used. If your GP thinks that a consistent blocked nose is part of the problem, you may be prescribed a nasal spray to help reduce congestion.

If all other approaches haven't worked, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgical options include tightening the loose tissues in the back of the throat. Laser surgery on the soft palate can now also be an option in some cases. The aim of these operations is to remove, change or make smaller those parts of the soft tissues in your airways that vibrate when you're sleeping, causing you to snore. If you have large tonsils, having them removed can sometimes cure snoring.

Finally take note: women do snore, it's just we (apparently) snore louder!

david@dad.ie

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