If you’re like most Americans you probably don’t get eight hours sleep each night.
But, if you also constantly feel exhausted, experience headaches for no obvious reason or have high blood pressure, you could have a more serious problem.
That’s because these can all be the result of snoring—which is, in turn, the most common symptom of a potentially serious health problem—obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
While most people think of snoring as a minor annoyance, research shows it can be hazardous to your health. That’s because for over 18 million Americans it’s related to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People who suffer from OSA repeatedly and unknowingly stop breathing during the night due to a complete or partial obstruction of their airway. It occurs when the jaw, throat, and tongue muscles relax, blocking the airway used to breathe. The resulting lack of oxygen can last for a minute or longer, and occur hundreds of times each night.
Thankfully, most people wake when a complete or partial obstruction occurs, but it can leave you feeling completely exhausted. OSA has also been linked to a host of health problems including:
- Acid reflux
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Memory loss
- Heart attack
People over 35 are at higher risk.
OSA can be expensive to diagnosis and treat, and is not always covered by insurance. A sleep clinic will require an overnight visit (up to $5,000). Doctors then analyze the data and prescribe one of several treatments. These may require you to wear uncomfortable CPAP devices that force air through your nose and mouth while you sleep to keep your airways open, and may even include painful surgery.
If you sleep next to someone that snores because of OSA, there are options for you and your partner.
Tighten your Zzoma
This belt-like device is worn around the chest area during sleep; its firm foam material gently forces you to slumber on your side, which helps prevent snoring. “Most people snore on their back, and 30 to 40 percent of the general population snores on a regular basis,” says Samuel Krachman, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Temple University. His research shows that the Zzoma reduces episodes of abnormal breathing due to positional sleep apnea (which occurs when you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping on your back). Untreated, sleep apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure, coronary disease and heart failure.
Play the didgeridoo
A study from the University of Zurich showed that regularly playing this Aboriginal wind instrument reduced daytime sleepiness and nighttime snoring in people with moderate sleep apnea. “The effects of the didgeridoo are similar to singing,” says Joanne Getsy, M.D., medical director of the Drexel Sleep Center in Philadelphia. “Playing it strengthens the upper airway muscles that dilate the airway and reduces the chance that the airway tissue will become floppy during the night, which causes snoring.” Dr. Getsy says tuba, trumpet and clarinet players have a similar advantage—though research in this area is minimal.
Exercise your tongue
“Certain exercises strengthen the tongue, reshaping it to fit better in the oral cavity and training it to ‘live’ on the roof of the mouth, so it doesn’t fall and block the airway,” says Janet Bennett, M.Ed, creator of the IJustWantToSleep program. She explains that making a sound of “t-t-t-t-t” (like you’re scolding someone) strengthens the tip of the tongue. To exercise the sides, do the “tense and relax”: Let your tongue hang out, relaxed—then tense it by pointing and holding for three seconds. Repeat.
Bite down on a mouthpiece
“Boil-and-bite anti-snoring dental devices” can be effective, says Steven Y. Park, M.D., clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at the New York Medical College and author of Sleep, Interrupted (Jodev Press, 2008). “These devices mold to your upper and lower teeth, and pull your lower jaw and the back of your tongue forward. This opens your airway, allowing you to breathe better.” Dr. Park adds that mouthpieces prevent tongue collapse in deep sleep, and can also be effective in promoting sound sleep for non-snorers.
Wear an air mask
A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask is commonly used for moderate to severe sleep apnea. They connect to a pump that pushes air into the nasal passages and throat, keeping airways open. However, not everyone can tolerate wearing a mask over their nose and face overnight. Dr. Krachman of Temple University says the CPAP is very effective, but only used correctly 50 percent of the time. Users, heed your sleep specialist’s instructions! Shannah Godfrey, 46, of Independence, Mo., says, “I can’t stand not to use my CPAP. I don’t get as many sinus, ear, or throat infections now. My chronic sinusitis is gone and my colds last only half as long.”
A recent case study published by Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concludes that wearing a simple chinstrap while you sleep can be an effective treatment for OSA.
The chin strap, which is now available from a company called MySnoringSolution, works by supporting the lower jaw and tongue, preventing obstruction of the airway. It’s made from a high-tech, lightweight, and super-comfortable material. Many people have used a chinstrap to help relieve their snoring symptoms, and they report better sleeping, and better health overall because of it.
Snoring can be caused by obstructed nasal passages or allergies,and it’s important to find a remedy that treats the underlying cause. According to Terry Courtney, L.Ac., dean of the School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Bastyr University outside Seattle, “Oftentimes with a structural problem, the local tissue is irritated or inflamed. Acupuncture can address this condition by reducing the local inflammation and helping to clear passageways.”
While Courtney says a severe structural problem like a deviated septum would need to be addressed by a physician, “People with sinusitis often benefit from treatment with Chinese medicine. Sometimes it only takes a handful of treatments; often people benefit from more frequent treatment during peak allergy seasons. Depending on the practitioner’s training, sometimes acupuncture is used [alone] and or in combination with Chinese herbs to address this condition.” And the snorer—along with his or her partner—may therefore rest longer in the land of nod.
Then there are types of special pillows which help you prevent snoring by changing your sleeping position from a back sleeper or a stomach sleeper to a side sleeper. The reason behind this is because there is much more snoring occurring in the back and stomach sleeping positions compared to the side sleeper position and these pillows, which tend to be much more bulky will create a physical, but comfortable, obstacle so that the person can not rotate or shift around the bed and remains to sleep on the side with as perfect alignment of the head, neck and spine as possible and as little pressure on the windpipe as it can be made.
Getting and staying fit is very important. For your general and over all well being, not to mention your loved ones who want you stick around for a while. You can do as or as little exercise as you like honestly but it starts with what you’re eating. When you’re doing as much as you physically can muster along with eating in a way that your body can heal itself from the inside out, you will see results and create a better life for yourself at the same time.
If you’re still snoring after trying all of these options,
it is time seek serious medical attention. Not because you snore but because you’re partner punched you in the throat to stop you from snoring. If every sound that could possibly be heard sounds like it’s happening right next to your skull or your other half can’t keep a sock in it, try ear plugs. They gotta be good ones to, like shotgun ear plugs. It’s kinda weird honestly, when I put ear plugs in, within 2 minutes, I’m knocked out. I tell my lady, “I’m going in.” She knows that means stop talking, let me sleep, and snore away.
Ear plugs or the couch, it’s your choice…