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The part of the mouth causing this ruckus is known as the soft palate. It's the archway at the back of the throat where the tonsils, pharynx and uvula -- the little boxing bag of flesh that dangles from the roof of your mouth -- hang out. Anything that restricts breathing at night, even a little -- or relaxes the soft palate and makes it more flappable -- will lead to snoring. Causes of this disruption can be:
• Sleeping on your back
• Using the wrong pillow -- i.e., one that is too large and forces you to sleep with a crimped neck
• Drinking alcohol (a relaxant) before you sleep
• Taking cold pills, sleeping medicine or sedatives
• Being overweight or eating before bedtime
• Being pregnant.
That's why snoring has been called the disease of living well: too much food, too much wine, too much tobacco and not enough exercise.
Studies have shown that gender and age have a lot to do with it, too. Snoring is twice as common in men as it is in women because men are more likely to have bulky soft palates -- fat necks, fat tongues and fat throats. And men are more likely to load themselves up with snore-inducing habits such as drinking, overeating and not exercising. After menopause, women catch up to the guys and begin snoring because they have less estrogen in their bodies (estrogen stimulates breathing at night and thus reduces snoring). As people age, they are more likely to snore because they gain weight and lose muscle tone, two prime conditions for snoring.
How to Stop (Maybe)
People often ask me: Now that you have tried all these cures, do you still snore? Which remedy works best? Before I answer that, let me give you some advice. Most important, be cautious of anything that makes this claim: "Finally -- A Cure For Snoring That Really Works!" There are too many variables. But you'll need to reduce several factors that lead to snoring and try some more serious interventions until you find a combination that works.
First, start with the easy stuff, such as lifestyle changes. One of the easiest ways to stop snoring is to place a tennis ball in the chest pocket of a T-shirt, then wear the T-shirt backwards, so that if you roll over onto your back, the tennis ball will wake you up. During the Civil War, small cannonballs were sewn into the backs of uniforms to keep soldiers from snoring and alerting the enemy.
Second, after you have tried the lifestyle changes, you can invest a little bit of money in some devices that may help you stop snoring. If your room is dry, get a humidifier. If you have allergies, buy an air cleaner or have one of those duct-cleaning companies sweep your air vents. You can buy an orthopedic anti-snoring pillow that keeps your head and neck properly aligned while promoting side sleeping. Many people report that wearing a nasal strip or even a chin-up adhesive strip at night promotes better breathing. Others routinely rinse their sinus passages with a saline solution. Additionally, there are many herbal sprays that you can buy over the Internet that claim to stop snoring by coating the throat with snore-inhibiting gunk or numbing the soft palate.
If none of these cures works, then you can move to the third level of seriousness. You can have a custom-fit oral mouthpiece made by your dentist that helps you breathe better through your nose and mouth. You can have your tonsils and uvula removed. If your septum is deviated -- as mine was by a basketball injury during my teens -- you can have it fixed. You can have your soft palate widened, usually with a laser. You can have your nasal passages enlarged. And in some cases, if the back of your tongue is fat, you can have it reduced. All of these operations can be extremely painful and have a wide range of success -- anywhere from 50 to 90 percent.
One device that works nearly 100 percent of the time is called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. Consisting of a pump that sits by your bed, a flexible tube and a mask that fits over your nose, the CPAP forces just enough air into your nasal passageways to keep them open all night while you sleep. You look and sound like a fighter pilot or a patient in a hospital ward, but at least you don't snore. (In my case, it proved too intrusive).
There also are a slew of new and often wacky cures. One company has patented anti-snoring implants: three plastic strips that are inserted into the roof of the soft palate. Other remedies include anti-snoring hypnosis tapes; devices that use radio frequency waves to stiffen upper airway soft tissue and thus reduce snoring; and nose clips inserted inside the nostrils, stimulating them with magnets. Not everything is obvious. Another retailer sells an acupressure ring for your left pinky that "rechannels your snoring energy." Then there are CDs that claim to teach sufferers how to sing and exercise the throat to stop snoring. Not surprisingly, there's a Hannibal Lecter-like chin strap that fits over the head and Velcros the mouth shut.