Because snoring affects over 100 million Americans, people ask me all the time what they should do for their snoring—or for their loved ones who snore. While I am available for a formal evaluations, whether contacting me for an appointment or video consultation, there are some basic first steps one can take.
To know where to start, you first need to collect more information. Ask the same questions I ask on my new patient questionnaire. Those who complain about your snoring should have plenty of information for you. How often and how loud is the snoring? Is there any choking or gasping for air? Does anything make the snoring better or worse, whether sleeping on your back, drinking alcohol within 3 hours before going to bed, recent changes in body weight, being especially tired, or blockage in breathing through the nose?
Although people often joke about snoring and the challenges of getting a good night’s sleep next to someone who does, it can be the sign of a more-serious medical condition called obstructive sleep apnea. The entries on this blog should never be considered medical advice, so you should see a medical provider in person if there are any warning signs of sleep apnea. This includes frequent choking or gasping for air while asleep; loud snoring that wakes up others and does not clear up with some of the basic steps outlined here; or poor sleep quality that can cause sleepiness or fatigue. You should also see a medical provider if you have significant medical concerns, such high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
With that in mind, here are some options that can stop your snoring:
1. Sleep on your side or stomach instead of on your back. Sleeping on your back worsens snoring and breathing at night for many people, and someone else can tell you if the snoring occurs only when sleeping on your back. If you want to sleep on your side but are unable to stay in that position, there is a silly trick involving a T-shirt and tennis balls that can minimize the amount of time you spend on your back.
2. Avoid alcohol within 3 hours before bedtime. Think of sleeping as somewhat like driving. You want the alcohol to clear out of your system before you go to bed, as alcohol has a number of negative effects on snoring and sleep.
3. Avoid most sleeping pills, including many over-the-counter antihistamines. Many sleeping pills relax muscles and have negative effects on snoring and sleep, similar to alcohol. The antihistamine diphenhydramine (the generic name for Benadryl) is an active ingredient in many over-the-counter medications (like Tylenol PM) and can have the same negative effects on sleep, surprisingly. Not all sleep aids worsen snoring and sleep quality, but it is good to ask your medical provider if you are not sure.
4. Lose weight. This is especially important if your snoring started or worsened substantially with weight gain. Of course, losing weight is always easier said than done, so for people who have been unable to lose weight easily, I tell them to continue trying but also discuss other treatments.
5. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Snoring tends to be worse when people are tired, generally because people are trying to get more deep sleep, where the muscles in your body are more relaxed. This leads to more snoring or blockage of breathing during sleep (the issue with sleep apnea). If you are able to get 7-8 hours of sleep on a typical night, your snoring should improve.
6. Make sure your pillows are helping you—or at least not hurting you. There is no special pillow to buy to end snoring, as you really just want a pillow that is comfortable. The one thing to think about is that the way your head rests when you sleep can matter. An excellent Australian study showed that tilting the head forward (chin towards the chest) worsens breathing patterns and that tilting the head backwards has the opposite effect. Pillows advertised as “snore pillows” tilt the head backwards and can improve snoring in some people, but there is no reason to buy these if you can use your own pillows properly. The bottom line: using large or too many pillows may be soft for your head but bad for snoring and breathing patterns. Make sure your pillow keeps your head tilted slightly backwards or in a neutral position.
7. Sleep with your head elevated. Some people notice major benefits to sleep in a recliner, on a foam wedge, or even with a few pillows arranged to form an incline similar to a wedge. However, this is often not comfortable or practical as a long-term solution.
8. Avoid dehydration. Dehydration leads to thickened mucus in the mouth and throat, which can cause the surfaces inside to stick together and cause or worsen snoring. Snoring sprays, which do not work for most patients, are mainly oils that reduce this tendency for sticking together. Drinking enough fluids during the day can reduce snoring in people who are dehydrated, although I do not recommend drinking a large amount right before bedtime because you will wake up from sleep to use the bathroom.
9. (Be able to) breathe through your nose. Mouth breathing worsens snoring and breathing patterns during the night. Often mouth breathers simply cannot breathe through their nose, so it is important to open the nasal passages. Common causes of blocked nasal breathing include allergies, a deviated septum, and enlarged inferior turbinates, all of which require evaluation by a medical provider to discuss treatment. However, there are two causes that patients can treat themselves, discussed below.
10. Stop smoking. Studies show that smokers are more likely to quit smoking if their medical provider tells them to do so. So if you smoke, stop. It will be the best thing you do for your health. Smoking causes irritation of the lining of the nose and throat, and quitting can reduce your snoring—or eliminate it entirely.
11. Watch the outside of your nose while breathing. Some people have substantial collapse of the sides of their nose when they breathe. In my office, I start to examine the nose by watching my patients breathe, and you can do the same at home by watching yourself in the mirror. People with marked collapse can respond well to external nasal dilator strips (the most common ones are Breathe Right strips).
12. Discuss evaluation and treatment with a medical provider. An appointment can help determine which of these makes the most sense for you or whether other evaluations are appropriate, such as a sleep study to test for obstructive sleep apnea. We can also discuss appropriate treatment options from among the wide range of medical and surgical options. For more information about snoring, sleep apnea, and treatment options, please feel free to contact me via e-mail, find information on a video consultation or scheduling an appointment, or review the information available on www.sleep-doctor.com.