Simply put, snoring is the sound produced when the tissues of the nose and throat vibrate during sleep. Snoring occurs when turbulent air flow pushes its way through a physical narrowing – or obstruction/swelling – of structures within the nose, mouth or throat. When an obstruction occurs, the tissues start to vibrate and, hence, it comes out as a snore.
Why does snoring happen?
There are many different reasons for structural narrowing of the passageways. If someone has an obstruction of their nose – be it a deviated nasal septum from a broken nose, a polyp in the nose or even allergies – he or she would tend to breathe more through the mouth. When we breathe through our mouths while we sleep, it causes a more intense vibration of the soft tissues, and a louder sound.
Likewise, our throats can experience structural swelling. Our lymph nodes – including our tonsils or adenoids – can become enlarged, which reduces the air flow and leads to snoring. And sometimes, it’s simply the anatomy we’re born with. Some people have a large uvula or a long soft palate, which can create a slight obstruction of the airways.
How does snoring affect our sleep?
In the case of an occasional or “light” snorer, the vibrations can disrupt the sleep of others and be a bit of an annoyance or nuisance. But if the snorer’s breathing is not affected, his or her sleep can remain blissfully unaffected, too.
But that’s not the case for everybody. “Habitual” snorers need to make a concerted effort to maintain adequate breathing while sleeping. It’s that effort that causes transient arousal from sleep – meaning they temporarily are awakened throughout the night. When we are sleep deprived, we wake up feeling tired, sluggish and experience general sleepiness during the day. That prolonged fatigue can lead to all types of sleeping disorders.
In some cases, the airways can be so extremely obstructed that the person stops breathing momentarily while asleep. This can happen many times a night in some people. The condition is called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea actually causes reduced oxygen flow to the vital organs, which can increase the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
The most important thing is to identify the underlying cause. Disruptive snoring should be evaluated by a physician. Once the doctor – or sleep specialist – identifies what is causing the obstruction, treatment for the specific underlying cause can begin.
One thing snorers can do is avoid sleeping on their backs. Gravity allows our muscles and our tongues to fall back and obstruct our airway. One simple trick is to sew a tennis ball into the back of the snorer’s pajamas – which keeps you sleeping on your side throughout the night, rather than on your back.
If the upper airway problem involves the nose, nasal strips like these Breathe Right nasal strips – made using 3M technology – create a constant lifting action on the nostrils, which helps the flow of air through the nasal passages during sleep.
If the obstruction is occurring in the throat area, dentists can recommend oral appliances that pull the jaw forward which helps to open up the airway. And in the case of sleep apnea, the patient can be attached to a breathing device that continuously forces air through the nose or mouth as they sleep.
Dr. Oyebode Taiwo is responsible for the health, safety and well-being of 3M employees globally. He and his team of doctors and nurses – more than 120 health care providers in 34 countries – develop strategies to help 3Mers stay safe and healthy. Prior to becoming 3M’s global medical director, Oyebode spent almost two decades as a faculty member at Yale University’s School of Medicine.