A surprisingly large number of us are snorers – about 60 percent of the adult population. Snoring can come on at any time, is more common in people between 40 and 60, and is twice as common among men as women.
The causes are many and complex. Contributing factors include:
Snoring takes place in the back of the throat, the bit between the back of your nose and the top of the larynx. While you’re awake, the area is held open by muscle tone, but when you go to sleep, those muscles relax and the airway at the back of the throat can get smaller, giving you a smaller tube to breathe through. Because you’re sucking in the same amount of air through this smaller space, it creates the loud vibration we call snoring.
If the muscles relax further, the tube narrows to the point that the airway partially or completely sucks shut. After a few seconds of the airway being blocked, oxygen levels drop, the body panics, floods with adrenaline and brings you back to a light sleep, putting tone back into the airway and allowing you to breathe again.
If this happens hundreds of times a night it’s known as obstructive sleep apnoea, which affects about 25 percent of males and nine percent of females. Dr Alex Bartle of the Sleep Well Clinic explains, “Instead of your normal 90-minute sleep cycles – and you need five of those to feel good in the morning – you are knocking yourself constantly into a very much lighter sleep.”
Apart from daytime tiredness, severe sleep apnoea can lead to an increased chance of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. Regular snorers, whose airways don’t become completely obstructed, can still suffer many of the same issues as sleep apnoea sufferers, albeit without the same heart and diabetes risk.
There is no cure for snoring but there are treatment options. Changing your lifestyle is usually the first step. Alcohol and excessive weight make snoring worse. There’s surgery, but that’s generally only for children, whose sleep apnoea is almost always caused by oversized tonsils.
Your Unichem Pharmacist can talk to you about tongue stabilising devices, nose strips and sprays – all available in pharmacy.
Dr Bartle mentions mandibular advancement which works by a device that pulls the lower jaw forward and brings the tongue forward. There are also CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines that use air pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep. But you need to wear a mask or nasal prongs while you sleep and as soon as you stop using them, you go back to snoring as usual.
The natural approach would be to determine the cause, says naturopathic sleep specialist Kirsten Taylor. “The most common reasons for snoring are recognised as inflammation, low-grade allergies such as from food or the environment and changes in the muscles while a person is sleeping. Magnesium helps the body manage inflammation, and a supplementation of 400mg at night has been shown to help with snoring,” she says.
“Following a hypo-allergenic diet by avoiding wheat and dairy and processed foods can be useful as can supplementing with probiotics and Vitamin C. Vitamin C and probiotics have been shown to decrease histamine response and are considered anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy agents.”
To find out which snoring treatments and supplements might be right for you, talk with your local Unichem Pharmacist.