Snoring is one of humanity’s great uniters: We’ve all lost sleep from someone sawing logs in the next room. In fact, one Italian study interviewed thousands of participants and found that nearly one fifth of the subjects snored habitually.
This habit isn’t just a nuisance—it actually affects your health. Luckily, there are a few ways to stop it.
Snoring versus sleep apnea
You probably didn’t need science to tell you this, but “snoring can affect your quality of sleep as well as your bed partner’s,” says Neil Kline, a sleep physician with the American Sleep Association. If you don’t believe us, take a look at this 2006 study, which found evidence of sleep disruption in children and adolescents who snored, or this 1999 one, which found that people slept an entire hour longer each night after their spouses stopped snoring. This is important because we know that good-quality sleep improves your overall health.
However, sleep disruption may be one piece of a larger, far more worrying health issue. Snorers produce that gravely sound because the tissues in the back of their throats are obstructing their airways, vibrating as they inhale and exhale. In some cases, the obstruction can be so bad that the airway closes entirely. This is called sleep apnea, and it’s a huge problem. It means you’re essentially suffocating for a few moments until your brain wakes up and restarts your breathing.
RELATED: Take a look at your sleeping habits
What to know about your sleep habits
What to know about your sleep habits
You can't drift off: Clean up your sleep
Your sleep habits can reveal important signs about your health, so how do you know when you have a sleep problem? About one-third of adults suffer insomnia during their lifetime, explains Shanon Makekau, MD, the Chief of Pulmonology & Sleep at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center; 10 to 15 percent suffer from chronic insomnia. Dr. Makekau points out that insomnia can range from trouble drifting off to waking up during the night and being unable to fall back asleep.
If this sounds like you, Dr. Makekau says certain medications or substances—from caffeine to nicotine—and stress could be preventing you from rest, among other issues. "Often insomnia will improve with simple changes in sleep hygiene along with overall regression of life stressors," she says. "If you have an extended bout of insomnia that doesn't go away after you change your habits, it's important to talk to your physician because insomnia could be a sign of an underlying medical issue." What is sleep hygiene? Check out this guide to "cleaning up" your sleep.
You hit "snooze" 20 times: You need a sleep routine
Try to pick a time when you can wake up and get out of bed with the minimum amount of drama, advises Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS. "The body's natural circadian rhythm is such that you can train your body to wake up around the same time every day," Dr. Tauberg says. "This is a habit you have a lot of control over. Try to stay consistent with when you are getting up, even on the weekends." This may mean making sure your head hits the pillow early enough (even on weekends) to get enough shuteye. "Continuing to change the time you wake up in the morning can have negative effects on your sleep cycle," he says. Take your cue from these six things the bedrooms of sound sleepers have in common.
You're exhausted when you wake up: Your diet could be to blame
Though there are plenty of causes for feeling exhausted even after you've slept through the night. Steven R. Olmos, DDS, the founder of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre, suggests analyzing what you eat before bedtime. "Having a meal low in fiber but high in saturated fats and sugar has been shown to produce more arousals or awakenings during sleep, which means that you will be more tired when you wake," he explains. Check out these 30 healthy eating tips that could change your life—and help you sleep.
You're afraid you won't nod off: Get up for a bit
Don't stew in bed—get up and move. It might seem counterproductive, but David Greuner, MD, says it breaks a bad cycle. "Most people make the mistake of switching positions until they eventually fall asleep—this is actually wrong," Dr. Greuner explains. "Many sleep experts say the best thing to do is just get up, leave your room, and do something else that doesn't involve sleep." Eventually, you'll become tired enough to doze off easily, he says. If that doesn't help, try these 11 weird tricks that can help you fall asleep.
You wake up at 3 a.m.: Give up the nightcap
A late drink might help you fall asleep, but it will wake you later, warns Daniel Slaughter, MD. He recommends cutting yourself off at least two hours before you hit the sack. "Alcohol prior to bedtime will tend to generate insomnia in the middle of the night," he explains, and it will be tough to fall back asleep. "This will reduce the amount of REM sleep," he says—that's the restorative part of your sleep cycle.
You snore: See a doctor
Respiratory problems tied to sleep, including snoring, gasping for air, and interrupted breathing might mean you're struggling with sleep apnea, says Dr. Makekau. The condition can cause daytime sleepiness, a sore or dry throat, morning headaches, depression, and memory trouble. Being overweight or having a family history of sleep apnea ups your risk, explains Dr. Makekau: It's important to get checked out ASAP because the condition can leave you more susceptible to weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. If you want to understand how important sleep is to overall health, watch this talk by neurologist Dr. Stasha Gominak—it may change your life.
Your legs have a life of their own: Plan an evening walk
Just as you're drifting off you get a weird itchy or burning sensation in your legs, and you have an uncontrollable urge to move them. That could be restless legs syndrome, says Dr. Makekau. "Usually stretching, walking it off, or moving about can alleviate the discomfort," she notes. "Other home remedies include avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening, taking a warm bath at night, and gentle massaging." You may want to talk with your doctor about possible nutritional deficiencies—sometimes the symptoms can be a sign you're low in iron, vitamin B12, or folate, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
You problem solve in bed: Learn to relax
If your mind won't shut down at night, stress could be getting the better of you, says Dr. Makekau. "Set a timer an hour before bedtime to step away from the screen and put down the phone. Free your mind of persistent worries by jotting down your stresses or what you forgot to do that day," she shares. "Engage in stress-reducing activities only—a warm bath, yoga, meditation, or listening to relaxing music—to calm your body and mind and prepare your brain for bed. By the time you actually go to sleep, you'll be that much closer to a peaceful slumber." Try some of these mini-meditations to banish stress from your brain.
Eight hours is never enough: Focus on quality
"Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night regularly in order to feel reset," says Dr. Makekau." As important as it is to log those hours, sleep quality is just as important as length time. Sleep should be continuous and uninterrupted, allowing you to experience REM and NREM—rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement—sleep states to feel the full restorative benefits of a good night's rest," she explains. Check out these helpful tips from sleep doctors for improving your slumber.
You're always waking up to pee: Get a checkup
"While this may be due to you drinking too much water before bed, it can also have other health-related meanings," warns Dr. Tauberg. "Have yourself evaluated by your doctor. You may be experiencing signs of diabetes or possible prostate enlargement." Here are some more medical reasons you might need to pee all the time.
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Apnea can cut off your breathing as rarely as a few times a night, or as frequently as a few times per hour, causing a host of very real health risks. According to the American Sleep Association, sleep apnea can “increase the likelihood of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes,” not to mention other risks like driving accidents due to lack of sleep.
Snoring is almost always a symptom of sleep apnea, but apnea isn’t always the cause of snoring, so it can be hard to tell whether your nighttime noise is a mere annoyance or a more serious health problem. Kline says, “If you have snoring accompanied by excessive daytime sleepiness, witnessed pauses in breathing during sleep, gasping during sleep, or the presence of other health disorders, a visit to the doctor is recommended.”
How to stop snoring and sleep better
If you’re concerned you may have sleep apnea, don’t just rely on your partner to diagnose you, as non-experts may not notice when others stop breathing during sleep. Instead, a doctor will likely recommend a sleep study with a specialist. You can undergo one of these diagnostic tests in a sleep center or using an at-home kit. A specialist can also take your medical history into account and offer options for long-term treatment.
Even if you don’t seem to have sleep apnea, your loud sawing can still annoy your partner and disrupt your own z’s. According to Kline, you can take several steps to alleviate it.
For starters, most snorers sleep on their backs. Changing your sleep position can change this habit. Alcohol also increases your likelihood of a noisy night, so try to avoid a nightcap before bed.
If these measures fail, you can move on to more significant interventions. Klein says, “If you’re overweight, weight loss may be very effective at decreasing the size of the tissues that surround the airway.” With less surface area vibrating at the back of your throat, the sound of your breathing will grow quieter. Klein also recommends an anti-snoring mouthpiece, which can help widen your airway.
In certain cases, you can even ask an ear nose and throat doctor about performing one of several surgeries that reduce snoring. Klein says, “While there is no guarantee of success with any surgery, and there are risks, these options may offer an option to eliminate snoring—without other concurrent treatment options.” If you’re a good candidate for this type of procedure, you’ll be able to dispense with other anti-snoring measures.