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Is snoring ever normal?

By Dr Alison Bentley, Restonic Sleep Expert

The simple answer is “no”.

Snoring indicates that there is some obstruction to normal breathing that only occurs during sleep. The obstruction causes a turbulence in the airflow and vibration of the palate or the small tongue at the back of the mouth (the uvula). That vibration, plus a slightly open mouth, produces the noise we call snoring. The obstruction can be anywhere in the nose or throat area.


Weight gain is often a cause of snoring, especially in men, who are prone to putting on weight around the neck and chest area. Extra weight in these areas directly narrows the airway making it harder to breathe in.

Did you know?

Your head position when sleeping could be making your snoring worse! If your mattress (and your pillow) doesn’t offer the correct spinal support, it affects the angle of your head, neck, and airway, which can increase the likelihood of snoring

Various reasons for snoring

Throat

the throat can produce snoring as the lining of the throat becomes “floppier”, sleepers at an advancied age aree more suceptable to this condition. The number of people snoring increases after 40 years old in men and over 50 years old in women (in this latter group due to menopause).

Nose blockage

Many people who snore have a problem with a blockage in their nose, which could be due to a deviated septum, a general irritation causing a swollen lining of the nose, polyps or enlarged adenoids. Some of these conditions may need surgery, while others can be treated with appropriate nasal sprays which may need to be used long-term.

Retained tonsils

One major obstruction in the throat is the tonsils. These are no longer routinely taken out in early childhood, so many more children grow up with their tonsils. If they become enlarged, they can swivel back during sleep to cause an obstruction. In children, snoring is never normal and removal of the tonsils and adenoids resolves the snoring in 95% of children.

Palate

As the end of the palate is generally the structure producing the snoring noise, there is sometimes a tendency to want to surgically remove it.

Although this can reduce the noise itself, the surgery needs to be undertaken with caution. The palate is responsible for some very important functions, such as closing off the back of the nose during swallowing and creating our unique speech. Surgery may interfere with these normal and useful functions.

Jaw and tongue

The jaw and the tongue become important factors in snoring especially when sufferers lie on their back. In that position gravity moves the jaw back narrowing the airway. This type of obstruction can be managed by changing your sleep position & preventing the sleeper from lying on their back (such as a creating a pocket in the pyjama top / t-shirt between the shoulder blades and inserting a small ball in there) or using a snore mouthpiece to stabilize the jaw.

Weight gain

Weight gain is often a cause of snoring, especially in men, who are prone to putting on weight around the neck and chest area. Extra weight in these areas directly narrows the airway making it harder to breathe in. Losing even a few kilograms can help to reduce snoring.

Reflux

An often-ignored cause of snoring is reflux of stomach contents. These make their way up into the back of the throat causing swelling of the back of the tongue. During the day, gravity keeps the contents of the stomach in place, but lying down removes that force (particularly after a large meal close to bedtime or after eating spicy foods). Moving the evening meal to at least three hours before bedtime and possibly taking a small dose of antacid before going to sleep may reduce snoring caused by reflux.

Most people have more than one of these symptoms and they may not be specific for any particular cause.

When to be concerned

Snoring it can just be a problem of noise pollution, but  it may also be a sign of something more sinister, such as obstructive sleep apnoea. This is when your upper airway partially or totally collapses, affecting your ability to breathe and to get enough oxygen.

If your snoring is associated with daytime tiredness, catches or pauses in the breathing at night or high blood pressure, you should speak to your doctor about possible apnoea. This is a serious medical disorder that can cause long-term medical problems and requires professional treatment.

Dr. Alison Bentley

Dr. Alison Bentley

Dr. Bentley is a medical doctor with 30 years of experience treating sleep problems in both adults and children. She has a PhD in restless leg syndrome and has worked in private practice, research including academia. She was the founding chair of the Sleep Society of South Africa and has presented at local and international medical and sleep conferences, and in her spare time, she volunteers to build nursery school classrooms. Dr. Bentley believes sleep remains under-researched and aims to improve sleep research and training for doctors. From 2023, Dr. Bentley will be partnering with Restonic SA to share her knowledge and expertise on sleep