Recently, my best friend’s wife (and my own friend since college days) told me an interesting story.
“I know you’re into the whole snoring thing” she said (not exactly how I’d have put it myself), “so I thought you’d want to hear this. Micah says I snore!”
Apparently, my friend had woken up her husband with a set of snores that scared him. “He says I actually stopped breathing for a second,” she insisted. “I think I’m the only girl snorer in the western world!”
She’s wrong. Men are certainly at higher risk than women for being snorers (and potentially having a serious sleep condition called OSA), but women do snore. It’s just such myths as this one that make it important to know potential signs of snoring, even if you – or your spouse – has never noticed the snoring. Here’s what to look out for.
1. Being Male
Okay, so there’s nothing you can do about this one. But it is true that men snore more than women. Some 40% of men and 24% of women snore, according to The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
The exact reason isn’t known, but it could be a combination of factors, according to researchers. It is possible that a man’s generally larger size as compared to the average woman may be a factor; he simply has more weight (even if it’s not fat) pressing on his upper rib cage at night. Genetics may also play a part – the inherited structure of your head and neck may make breathing more difficult at night.
Don’t think if you’re a woman you’re in the clear, though: another theory is that that men sleep more heavily than women and/or are less sensitive to being woken to the noise, another reason not to discount the possibility of snoring if you’re a woman.
What Can You Do? Recognize that as a man, your potential to snore is higher. Look for signs as well as risk factors (see below). As a woman: don’t discount the possibility that you may snore. Twenty four percent is still quite a high number. For both sexes, there could be some special anti-snoring devices, but check with your doctor first to see what type of snorer you are.
2. Being Obese
There’s no discounting the link between obesity and snoring (see this article). Obesity may cause or exacerbate snoring in a number of ways. The most obvious is that more weight is pressing on the lungs and upper airway during sleep, causing breathing to be more difficult. But it’s also possible hormones, which can collect in fatty deposits and accumulate to higher than normal levels, may play a part.
Obese people also may have less efficient circulation, which could contribute to the problem.
What Can You Do? Losing weight isn’t always easy – if it were, 65% of adults in the U.S. wouldn’t be overweight or obese. But even taking small steps toward your goal of weight loss can help. And some experts claim that as little as a 15% weight loss in overweight individuals may help reduce snoring at night.
3. Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
Being inactive doesn’t just contribute to overweight (see above); it can also slow your metabolism overall.
And though when we hear “metabolism” we think “weight,” your metabolism also controls other vital functions of your body – including respiration.
Research suggests that people who get at least five days per week of moderate exercise are less likely to be snorers, with the consensus being that a conditioned respiratory system works better at night, too.
What Can You Do? “Work out” your respiratory system by getting in 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. A fast walk, an energetic swim or a bicycle ride can all accomplish this.
4. Waking With a Dry Mouth
This is one of the classic hallmarks of snoring, or at least mouth breathing, according to experts. If your mouth is open for an unusual percentage of the night, it will feel dry when you awaken. And often, the reason one’s mouth is open is because of snoring.
What Can You Do? If you’re waking in the morning with dry mouth, and you have any of the other factors listed here – or even if you simply have a suspicion that you’ve been snoring – see your doctor for a sleep study. This is the single best way to determine whether you’ve been snoring.
In the meantime, you can treat the symptoms by simply drinking water, but don’t think that because the symptoms are better, the cause has gone away. You need to see a professional to be sure.
5. Having Allergies
Allergy sufferers tend to snore more than non-sufferers. That’s because swelling in the nose, mouth and throat, as well as sensitivities to particles in the air, can all make breathing more difficult at night.
What Can You Do? Make sure you’re following your doctor’s allergy instructions exactly. If he has prescribed allergy medication, follow the instructions and dosage exactly.
Allergy symptoms can wax and wane, so make an appointment with your doctor if you notice changes.
6. Feeling Tired During the Day
A classic sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is tiredness during the day with no other explained cause. A patient with OSA will experience non-breathing events during the night. If it sounds scary, that’s because it is – OSA comes with its own associated set of risks (including high blood pressure and heart disease). DO NOT wait to see a doctor if you suspect OSA.
What Can You Do? Follow your doctor’s instructions exactly. Some OSA sufferers may benefit from devices that keep the jaw forward and the airway open, such as chin straps or mouth guards. Others may need additional help, such as a CPAP machine (a machine that continuously delivers oxygen through your mouth at night).
7. Consuming Alcohol Regularly
Though it’s relaxing and often a social activity, alcohol depresses your entire system. If you regularly consume large quantities of alcohol, your respiratory system may not be working as efficiently during sleep.
What Can You Do? Moderate your alcohol intake. If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, get help – don’t feel ashamed or afraid to take this crucial step. Recovery.org has a toll-free number to call, as well as information on what to expect.
A Note on Snoring Risk Factors
Whether you have the above signs or risk factors, or simply suspect that you might snore, see your doctor. Snoring can potentially lead to other, more serious problems due to the decrease in oxygen you’re receiving at night. It may also be linked to certain diseases. A thorough check-up and a sleep study, if warranted, can benefit you tremendously.