Often comically portrayed in animated media, snoring can be a major disturbance between couples sharing a bedroom. Frequently disrupted sleep can not only affect one physically but also really dampen a person’s sense of humour too. For those exposed to such disruptions, it’s no laughing matter.
A good night’s rest every night is regarded as an essential factor for healthy living. Without adequate sleep, human beings run risk of developing various health problems, along with a grumpy mood and concentration issues.
Snoring that causes sleep disruption can have an adverse effect on the affected individual as well as their bed partner, resulting in further disorder to both parties emotional or psychological states, and physical ability to lead productive lives. No one enjoys feeling sleepy and fatigued while trying to get on with their day, and from a partner’s side, it’s often very difficult not to resent the snorer or fantasise about ways to make them stop.
Snoring is a common sleep problem (or more precisely a sleep-related breathing disorder), and believe it or not, we’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives. Habitual snoring however, generally affects 44% of males and 28% of females between 30 and 60 years of age and research has found that our likelihood of regular snoring increases with age. (1)
Snoring is typically defined as the sound that occurs due to the obstruction of airflow while asleep. At the onset of sleep, the muscles in a person’s upper airway (i.e. the nose, throat and mouth) begin to relax. During this relaxation, the airway constricts (narrows). Airflow obstruction occurs when a little too much narrowing takes place and the upper airway dilator muscles are unable to stabilise the airways during sleep.
Narrowing occurs in the most collapsible portion of the airways where the tongue and upper airways connect with the soft palate and uvula (the fleshy piece of tissue that hangs over the tongue at the back of the mouth) in the throat. When this happens, the surrounding tissues may come into contact with one another and begin to vibrate while a person breathes (predominantly while inhaling through the nose, mouth or both) causing the harsh ‘roaring noise’ that generally prickles a bed partner who is, more often than not, the one that finds snoring the most disturbing.
Constriction of the airways also increases air movement velocity during expiration, thus altering the air pressure in the airways. The side of the airway passages then tend to collapse inwards adding to soft tissue vibration during the next inhalation of air. The narrower the airways become and the greater the vibration, the louder a person is likely to snore due to more forceful airflow.
Upper airway tissues, muscle fibres or peripheral nerve fibres can become somewhat damaged due to habitual snoring which may cause consistent inflammation and swelling (making one’s throat feel sore as a result). This increases the tendency for obstruction of the airways and depletes the stabilising function of the muscles even further. Muscle vascularity is thus weakened, priming the airways for narrowing. This typically means that snoring can worsen over time if not adequately attended to.
Light snoring generally isn’t considered disruptive to a person’s overall quality of sleep (although the same may not always be said for their spouse). However, if snoring becomes loud enough, and occurs on a frequent / chronic basis, it may even awaken the sleeper. In this instance, snoring could indicate a possible medical condition, like obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
1. Head & Neck Surgery--otolaryngology, Volume 1. 2006. Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=u5o3illp9CUC&pg=PA645&lpg=PA645&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 21.02.2018]