If you are lucky, snoring is a concept you have mostly forgotten about. You may vaguely remember an uncle who would doze off after lunch or a family member who annoyed you as a child, but nowadays it is a novelty. For the rest of us who sleep next to a snoring partner or are the offending party, it is a daily source of friction and frustration.
First of all, let's acknowledge that we are not the same people when we are tired. We are primal and protective at night--maybe a holdover from hunter-gatherer times. So, although our rational brains know that snoring is not a malicious act, it's hard not to take it personal at 3a.m. And why does it seem like a steady snore rubs it in that they are getting great sleep, better than a non-snorer will ever achieve?
Maybe if we understand snoring and what to do about it, compassion will win.
As we progress from light sleep to a deep sleep, muscles in the roof of your mouth, tongue and throat relax. These tissues can become so relaxed that they partially block your airway and vibrate like a woodwind instrument. The narrower the airway, the more sonorous your instrument becomes.
Some conditions make snoring worse, or make it appear: weight gain, anatomy, excess alcohol consumption, exhaustion and allergies all make the muscles of the throat and tongue relax and/or block your airway. It's important to note that you can't control snoring by willpower or by nudging your partner. If you've read this blog before you already know that interrupting sleep cycles is a way not to get good sleep.
So what can we do about it? Here are some solutions.
Change your pillows, and wash your pillow cases. If your mattress is more than 7 years old, think about changing it to. Remember that urban (or suburban) legend about mattresses gaining weight from dead skin and what not---it's true! Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, has said that "over the course of just 10 years, your mattress could double in weight because of the accumulation of dust mite debris, dead skin cells, etc." When you purchase a new mattress, get a cover for it too.
Less weight=less constriction and blockage. According to science, losing weight will require burning more calories than consumed. Or you can class it up and go paleo (Atkins without the fun) if you want temporary martyrdom and a high chance of recidivism.
In a previous post we extolled the virtues of side sleeping. In the case of snoring, it also seems best. If you are a back sleeper, your snoring is definitely worse because of it. All those loose, relaxed muscles fall back into the airway, turning your kazoo into a bullhorn. If you are looking for a new bed anyway, go ahead and invest in one that will accommodate your new sleeping position. These options from Sealy, Serta & Beautyrest, received top honors from consumer reviews.
Light snoring is an inconvenience to the waking party. It's okay to have an escape plan. Before snoring causes resentment and missed sleep, try the guest-room option. A well-rested couple who have slept in separate rooms will likely function better than an exhausted couple who insist that it is "weird."
Sleep Apnea is something a bit more serious, which can even be fatal if left unchecked. If you partner is gasping and waking up intermittently or his/her snoring has increased dramatically, you should definitely get that checked out.