Snoring and sleep apnoea can ruin your quality of sleep, impact your relationships and contribute to some serious long-term health issues. Heavy snorers often experience fatigue during the day which can affect your concentration and mood as well.
You can’t cure snoring and sleep apnoea, but you can manage and reduce it significantly with the right tools and lifestyle adjustments.
When you sleep, the muscles in your neck, nose and throat relax. In some people, the soft palate becomes loose and hangs down into the throat, partially blocking the airway. As you breathe, the air has to force its way through, which causes the soft palate to vibrate and create a snoring sound.
In sleep apnoea, the soft palate sometimes hangs down too low and fully blocks the airway, which is why sleep apnoea has you wake up gasping for air.
Below are some simple evidence-based steps (and less conventional techniques) to help you reduce your snoring and sleep apnoea.
1. Change your sleeping position
Snoring is more likely to occur if you sleep on your back. This position lets the soft tissues hang down into your throat more than when you sleep on your side. Learning to sleep in a new position is tricky (you’re not conscious when you sleep) but it can be done.
Some patients find that a body pillow helps them sleep on their side. Another trick is to tape a tennis ball to the back of your PJs. If you roll over, it will feel uncomfortable and you’ll roll back. It sounds crazy, but it’s backed by research1.
You can also try a NightShift device. We use these devices as part of our SleepTight program for snoring. It’s a small, flexible collar that vibrates when you lie on your back, so you’ll automatically roll onto your side again.
2. Lose some weight
This depends on your current size and weight. Patients who carry excess weight around their necks tend to reduce their snoring significantly by losing a few kilograms. This is because the extra weight creates more tissue around the throat and greater pressure on the airway when lying down.
It’s important to note that weight loss will only help you reduce your snoring and sleep apnoea if you are currently somewhat overweight. The goal is not to become skinny, but to maintain a healthy weight for your size and activity levels.
3. Drink less alcohol
Alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat when you sleep, so your soft palate is more likely to hang into your airway and cause some snoring after a few drinks. Alcohol also inflames the sinuses, which gives the air even less room to pass through.
If you are going to have a drink, try to have it more than four hours before your bedtime, keep it in clever moderation and drink plenty of water to re-hydrate yourself. You can always try having a drink before dinner and then switching to soda water while you eat.
4. Change your pillows
Dust can accumulate in your pillows and cause an allergic reaction, which can contribute to snoring. If your pillows are washable, make sure you wash them regularly. If not, be sure to change your pillows at least once per year and dust and vacuum your bedroom often. If you have pets who shed, try to keep them out of your bedroom, as the dander can also contribute to allergic reactions that worsen your snoring.
5. Open your nasal passages
This tip only helps if your snoring starts from your nostrils (but for many people, it does). Take a hot shower before bed, try a nasal spray or saline solution. Hydration also helps to keep your nasal passageways open, so be sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
6. Practice good sleep hygiene
This may not directly reduce your snoring, but it will help you get a better night’s sleep and stave off some of the fatigue that comes from snoring and sleep apnoea.
Try to go to bed at the same time every night, don’t look at your computer or smartphone for at least an hour before bed, and make sure you sleep in a dark, quiet room. These habits will help train your body to sleep more regularly.
7. If you smoke, quit
In addition to all of the other dangers of smoking, it can contribute to snoring. Smoking inflames your upper airways and it can also cause abnormalities that make your upper airways more narrow. This makes it even harder for the air to pass through when you sleep and increases your likelihood of snoring.
8. Consider a treatment program
At Specialist Clinics of Australia, we’ve found that a multifaceted approach really is the most effective way to manage snoring and sleep apnoea, and we’ve collected the data to back it up.
Our SleepTight program includes three laser treatments to restore natural firmness to the soft palate and open your airway; a NightShift device to help you sleep on your side and collect sleep data so we can track your progress; and consultations with a medical professional to discuss lifestyle changes to help you further manage your snoring.
Although snoring and sleep apnoea cannot be cured, they can be managed and reduced significantly. You have to try a few methods, speak to a health professional and figure out the right treatments and adjustments that are right for you.