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Snorers are often told to sleep on their sides rather than on their backs. This is because if you are lying on your side, the base of your tongue will not collapse into the back of your throat, obstructing breathing.
However, for some snorers, changing sleep position may not make a difference. There are two types of snorers – those who snore when sleeping on their backs, and those who snore in every position.
According to the New York Times:
“… [W]eight plays a major role. In one large study, published in 1997, patients who snored or had breathing abnormalities only while sleeping on their backs were typically thinner, while their nonpositional counterparts usually were heavier … But that study also found that patients who were overweight saw reductions in the severity of their apnea when they lost weight.”
- New York Times April 18, 2011
- Harefuah May 2009; 148(5):304-9, 351, 350
- Chest September 1997; 112(3):629-39
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
Snoring occurs when your throat muscles relax during sleep, your tongue falls backward toward your throat and the walls of your throat vibrate, leading to the familiar sounds of a snore. It’s a common notion, then, that most people only snore when they sleep on their back, as this is what allows your tongue to collapse into the back of your throat and obstruct breathing.
There’s even an old folk remedy for snoring that recommends sewing a tennis ball on the back of your pajamas to help keep you off your back while you sleep.
In fact, sleeping on your back can lead to snoring in some people – the New York Times reported one study found that 54 percent of snorers were “positional snorers,” which means they only snored while sleeping on their backs. So switching to your side while sleeping is a simple trick to try if snoring is interfering with your, or your partner’s, sleep – but it likely won’t work for everyone.
What Causes Snoring?
Even if you snore while sleeping on your back, it is not what causes the snoring to begin with, or else everyone would snore while sleeping in this position, which is clearly not the case. Instead, there is typically another underlying factor involved.
Again, snoring results from reduced airways, stemming from either your throat or nasal passageway, and it’s the vibrations as the air struggles to get through your soft palate, uvula, tongue, tonsils and/or muscles in the back of your throat that causes the sound of the snore.
Some of the most common underlying factors that lead to snoring, according to the National Sleep Foundation, include:
- Aging, which leads to increased relaxation of the throat muscles
- Obesity (particular having a lot of fatty tissue around the neck)
- Anatomical abnormalities of the nose and throat (enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, or deviated nasal septum)
- Functional abnormalities (such as inflammation of the nose or throat due to allergies)
- Drinking alcohol before bed, as alcohol is a potent muscle relaxant, or taking muscle relaxants in the evening
Chronic snoring is also a strong indicator of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is interrupted during sleep.
With sleep apnea, your throat muscles do not keep your airway open enough for you to breathe freely, leading to loud snoring and then periods of silence when your breathing actually stops. This is often followed by a loud gasp or snort when your body realizes it’s not getting enough airflow, which wakes you up, often repeatedly, throughout the night.
Snoring Can be Serious
A sound night’s sleep is essential for optimal health, but snoring often interferes with sound sleep. Snorers – and their bed partners – often experience restless sleep leading to sleepiness and difficulty concentrating during the day. If your snoring is due to sleep apnea, you’re also at an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and mood and memory problems.
Any condition that interferes with your sleep should be regarded as serious, as too little sleep impacts your levels of thyroid and stress hormones, which in turn can affect your memory and immune system, your heart and metabolism, and much more. Over time, lack of sleep can lead to:
Weight gain Depression High blood sugar levels and an increased risk of diabetes Brain damage Increased risk of cancer by altering the balance of hormones in your body Accelerated aging Increased risk of heart disease and stroke Faster tumor growth Increased blood pressure
How to Resolve Snoring, Naturally
Conventional physicians often resort to drugs (including antidepressants) and even surgery to treat snoring and sleep apnea, but these come with potentially serious risks to your health. There are natural options available that will help to address the underlying causes instead.
Before I delve into those, if your snoring is caused by sleep apnea you will probably be offered nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is the most common treatment for sleep apnea.
Nasal CPAP involves wearing a mask that forces air through your nasal passages over your nose while you sleep. The air pressure is constant and adjusted so that it is just enough to prevent your throat from collapsing during sleep. Nasal CPAP prevents airway closure while in use, however apnea episodes return when CPAP is stopped or if used improperly, so it’s not a permanent fix and is clearly not my recommendation of choice.
If you conclude you need CPAP or are currently using it, that is fine, it is not intrinsically dangerous – but it clearly is not treating the cause of your problem so I would strongly encourage you to progress along your health journey and identify an authentic solution, not just a temporary fix.
Other natural, non-invasive techniques that can help you stop snoring include:
- Try sleeping on your side – Giving side-sleeping a go is worth a try, as for some it’s an incredibly easy snoring fix, provided you are comfortable in this position and can still get a good night’s sleep.
Again, the reason why sleeping on your side instead of your back is recommended is because snoring is often due to lax muscles in your throat and tongue. When you sleep on your back your throat and tongue muscles ease backward in your throat, causing a vibration as you struggle to breathe.
- Dental Appliance. There are many dentists who specialize in this and can construct a device that helps to change the opening of your airway so your tongue has enough room and does not collapse and obstruct your airway when you sleep.
- Raise the head of your bed – This simple tip can also help diminish the collapse of your airways. Simply raise the head of your bed about four inches by placing blocks or wedges under your mattress.
- Normalize your weight – Carrying extra weight around your neck can cause your throat to narrow when you lay down, hence the higher risk of snoring if you’re overweight. Normalizing your body weight, even by 10 pounds or so, can make a big difference.
- Do throat and tongue exercises – A stronger throat and tongue are less likely to slip backward.
Here’s an example of one such exercise: Begin by putting your upper and lower molars together, lightly. Next, open your mouth, focusing on pressing your molars as wide apart as you can, without over stretching. Repeat this ten to twenty times. After about 5 to 10 times you should feel your jaw muscles strengthening, and the back of your mouth opening up.
- Use a steam bowl – Try putting your head over a bowl of hot water and covering it with a towel so you can inhale the steam. Be sure you are careful to avoid getting burned and use pure water that is free of chlorine and other toxins.
When done just before going to bed, this can work wonders to clear out your airways and reduce any swelling in your nasal passages that might be a contributing factor. You should also keep your sleeping environment as clean and dust free as possible if allergies are an issue.
- Use nasal strips – If your problem stems from obstruction in your nasal passageway, using nasal air strips can help increase airflow.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol, and other muscle relaxing or sleep aid drugs, will relax your tongue and throat muscles even more, making your snoring worse.
- Avoid milk – Yes, drinking pasteurized milk, especially at night, can also make snoring worse as it leaves a layer of mucus in your mouth and throat, so stick to plain water.
- Avoid big meals late in the evening – Avoid eating a big meal right before bedtime. If your stomach is full it can push up against your diaphragm, further limiting your ability to breathe easy.
Once you’ve resolved your snoring, you should find that you and your partner sleep much more soundly. If not, try out these 33 sleep aid secrets to further enhance your slumber.