Snoring megaphone at bed partner

What Snoring Means – How Does it Affect Your Sleep?

To understand ‘What Snoring Means’, let’s first look at the basics of a good night’s sleep.

A good night’s sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing. Sleep is a time of restoration for your body. While you sleep, your cells are awake repairing themselves.

Breathing brings air into the lungs so that the oxygen can be transported throughout the body via the bloodstream. Oxygen is vital for organ function and general health and wellbeing.

When you drift off to sleep, most of the muscles in your body relax; however, there are some exceptions such as the diaphragm and to a lesser extent, the dilator muscles which control the tongue and soft palate.

The diaphragm assists the work of breathing to be normal. The dilator muscles are too at work, holding the upper airway fully open. Air flows freely and easily during inhalation and exhalation, i.e. they are in-sync. You can hear these correspond to the sounds when you breathe in and out normally. When you are sleeping normally, your heart rate is stable, the oxygen level in your blood remains high, keeping up a normal supply to all your organs. Normal breathing provides adequate oxygen supply so that all of the organs can function effectively.

Image of normal breathing airway flow

You move naturally through the different stages of sleep and get a good night’s sleep. You will wake refreshed in the morning and are more likely to remain energetic during the day.

Airway Flow Limitation

Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) is one of the leading causes of poor sleep. Snoring comes under this condition. If you have SDB, airflow to your lungs periodically decreases while you sleep.

For those who have SDB, the upper airway muscles begin to relax during sleep, and the tongue and soft palate move closer to the back of the airway. This relaxation usually occurs if you are lying on your back or side due to the force of gravity. As the airway gradually narrows, it limits the rate at which air can pass through. This narrowing is called flow limitation.

Changes in the upper airway are the most common forms of reduced airflow as you sleep and the upper airway may be narrowed to some extent causing flow limitation.

Image of breathing flow limitationWhen the airway is restricted, it will be harder for you to breathe. Despite the flow limitation, the sounds of breathing are still relatively normal. From breath to breath, as flow limitation continues, the blood’s oxygen level remains quite steady, and the heart rate remains fairly stable.

At some point, the increased work or breathing against flow limitation may lead to an arousal. An arousal is a disturbance in the sleep cycle which may be accompanied by some movement. There is a visible increase in brainwave activity and heart rate. Each arousal has a powerful effect on your body.

Image of sleep activity chart

On arousal, you will quickly take a few quick deep breaths, as muscle tone returns to the tongue and soft palate, the airway opens.

This flow limitation arousal sequence may occur several times every hour; although there may not be much change in sounds of your breathing, your partner may notice you tossing and being restless. You may wake up feeling tired, and the effect on your body is strong enough to disturb your sleep and prevent you from getting the real rest you need to be healthy.

Snoring Causes

In many people with SDB, snoring may occur along with airflow interference. As the muscles in the upper airway relax, the soft tissue begins to vibrate when you breathe. This relaxation creates the audible sound of snoring. The tendency to snore increases when:

  • Blocked Nasal Airways – snoring may be prominent during an allergy season or if you have a sinus infection. Or if you have a problem with your nostrils (deviated septum) or nasal polyps can block your airways;
  • Tongue & Throat Muscle Tone – if the muscle tone is poor, the tissues in these areas can become too relaxed and collapse your airway;
  • Large Neck Circumference – if you have bulky throat tissue from large tonsils or adenoids as well as being overweight, this may contribute;
  • Long soft palate and/or uvula – this is the dangling tissue in the back of your mouth. If the tissue is long, this may cause them to vibrate and bump against one another;
  • Sleeping position – you sleep on your back;
  • Medications – taking certain medicines like sedatives;
  • Consuming alcohol & drug use;
  • Sleep Deprivation – being over-tired.

With snoring, there is turbulence with the airflow. Breath by breath, the frequency of the upper airway vibration, increases along with the snoring’s loudness. Snoring also increases the effort required to breathe, and it can be rather noisy.

Image of airway when snoring

Flow limitation with snoring often leads to arousal. Once again, this disturbance during sleep is a matter of concern. It has a significant visible and measurable impact on your heart rate and brain wave activity. On arousal, you will rapidly take a few deep breaths, and as you do so, the various characteristics being to normalise again.

Whenever an arousal occurs to restore normal breathing, it interrupts your sleep. Because of the noise that accompanies snoring, most partners can readily identify this as sleep-disordered breathing.

Natural remedies to Stop Snoring

Try these natural remedies to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Sleep on your side, not your back;
  • Raise the head of your bed if possible, or sleep with another smaller pillow to raise your head;
  • Sleep with a humidifier next to your bed and use sleep-inducing essential oils such as lavender, chamomile or a combined sleep blend from your favourite brand;
  • Avoid alcohol & drug use;
  • Try losing a few kilos;
  • Adhere to a sleep schedule.
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