What Are Snoring and Sleep Apnea?
If you’ve ever had a stuffed-up nose, you know the feeling of trying to breathe through a very narrow passageway. This is what happens in your throat when you snore. While you sleep, structures in your throat partially block your air passage, making the passage narrow and hard to breathe through. If the entire passage becomes blocked and you can’t breathe at all, you have sleep apnea.

If your throat structures are too large or the muscles relax too much during sleep, the air passage may be partially blocked. As air from the nose or mouth passes around this blockage, the throat structures vibrate and rattle against each other, causing the familiar sound of snoring. At times, this sound can be so loud that snorers wake up others, or even themselves, during the night. Snoring gets worse as more and more of the air passage is blocked.


Sleep Apnea
If the structures completely block the throat, air can’t flow to the lungs at all. This is called apnea (meaning “no breathing”). Since the lungs aren’t getting fresh air, the brain tells the body to wake up just enough to tighten the muscles and unblock the air passage. With a loud gasp, breathing begins again. This process may be repeated over and over again throughout the night, making your sleep fragmented and light. Even though you don’t remember waking up so many times during the night, you feel tired all day. The lack of sleep and fresh air can also strain your lungs, heart, and other organs, leading to problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.

Problems in the Nose and Jaw
Problems in the structure of the nose may obstruct breathing. A crooked (deviated) septum or swollen turbinates can make snoring worse or lead to apnea. Also, a receding jaw may make the tongue sit too far back, so it’s more likely to block the airway when you’re asleep.

Air may not be able to move freely past a deviated septum or swollen turbinates.

Tips to Help Prevent Snoring

Your snoring may get better if you make a few simple changes in your sleeping and waking habits. These changes might be all you need to improve or even cure your snoring, or they may work best when used along with other types of treatment.

Sleep on Your Side
Sleeping on your side may keep throat tissue from blocking your air passage. This may improve or even cure snoring. But it can be hard to stop sleeping on your back. Try sewing a pocket or sock onto the back of a T-shirt or pajama top. Put a few tennis balls or a bag of unshelled nuts into this pocket or sock, then wear the shirt to bed. This will help keep you from rolling onto your back. If this doesn't work, try wearing a backpack full of foam pieces, or put a wedge-shaped pillow behind you.

Avoid Alcohol and Certain Medications
Alcohol and medications such as sedatives, sleeping pills, and antihistamines make breathing slower and more shallow. They also make your muscles relax, so structures in your throat can block your air passage. These changes can cause or worsen snoring. If you snore, avoid alcohol. Talk to your doctor if you take medications to help you sleep.

Lose Weight
Too much weight can make snoring worse. Extra weight puts pressure on your neck tissues and lungs, making breathing harder. If you're overweight, ask your doctor about a weight-loss program.

Exercise Regularly
Exercise can help you lose weight, tone your muscles, and make your lungs work better. These changes may help improve your snoring. Ask your doctor about an exercise program like walking, or something else that you enjoy.

Unblock Your Nose
If something blocks your nose, treating the problem may help improve snoring. Your doctor can suggest medications for allergies or sinus problems. Nasal strips applied on the bridge of the nose can aid breathing. Surgery can straighten a deviated septum, reduce the size of the turbinates, or remove polyps (growths). If you smoke, try to quit because smoking makes a stuffy nose worse.


© 2006 The StayWell Company