How would you like to sleep next to a power lawn mower going full throttle? It doesn't sound like fun, but chances are you or your partner has been known to make about as much noise in the wee hours snoring. In the National Sleep Foundation's 2005 "Sleep in America" poll, six in ten respondents said they believe they're snorers.
The culprit behind snoring is your throat—the muscles of which can relax while you're sleeping and potentially vibrate loudly, like oboe reeds, when you breathe in and out. Snoring may be the result of genetics, such as having a wide, soft palate; a crooked partition between your nostrils; or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Or you might snore if you're overweight, congested, or drink alcohol before bedtime. "Any condition in which the mucous membranes tend to become inflamed can cause snoring, even something as simple as having a good cry after watching a particularly sad movie," says Keith F. Zeitlin, ND, a Wallingford, Connecticut-based naturopathic physician.
Sure, sawing logs is often the stuff of jokes, but it can also be a major problem. In some cases snoring can be the sign of a serious medical condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea, in which the throat muscles collapse, cutting off airflow for ten seconds or more. If you wake up gasping for breath or your snoring is accompanied by sleeplessness, morning headaches, confusion, and memory problems, you may have obstructive sleep apnea and should seek help from an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Even if your snoring is benign, it still might be a disturbance in your relationship. The good news is that a variety of natural treatments may help to calm even the loudest of bedtime beasts.
Show your best side
A common technique to reduce snoring is sleeping on your side. On your back, gravity forces your tongue and other parts of the soft palate to collapse, leading to snoring. According to Rob Simon, a Denver-based writer whose book Snore No More! (Andrews McMeel, 2005) chronicles his five-year battle against his own snoring to save his relationship with his wife, one clever way to do this is to place a tennis ball in the breast pocket of a T-shirt and wear the shirt to bed—backward. You'll likely be forced to sleep on your side.
Believe it or not, there may be historical precedence for this unusual bedroom attire, says Simon: Revolutionary War soldiers had cannonballs sewn into the backs of their uniforms to keep them from snoring at night and giving away their position to the enemy.
Firm up your before-bed rituals
To keep your throat muscles from relaxing, avoid sedatives and sleeping pills and keep away from alcohol for three or four hours before you hit the sack. Replace your superfluffy pillow with a stiffer one, which will help support your neck muscles. If you're overweight, get on a diet and exercise program; people above their ideal body mass index have more tendency to snore, says Suzan Jaffe, PhD, of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. And get to bed at a decent hour because going to bed exhausted may cause the soft palate to relax too quickly, says Simon.
Clear a passage
Nasal congestion, asthma, and allergies can lead to snoring, so it's a good idea to invest in a humidifier and to avoid things you're allergic to, such as cat dander or dairy products. Also, you may want to try natural antihistamines, says Zeitlin. Try sipping nettle-leaf tea three times a day or taking dietary flavonoids such as quercetin and hesperidin orally or as a nasal spray. These flavonoids help prevent the allergic reactions mediated by histamines. (See "Herbs and Supplements for Snoring" below for more about these anti-snoring aids.)
If a medical expert believes your snoring is linked to sinus infections—blocked airways could exacerbate snoring—Zeitlin recommends having your physician swab essential oils such as thyme, peppermint, or lavender in your nostrils to help dilate your nasal openings, promote sinus drainage, and soothe infections. Or Zeitlin suggests cleaning out your nasal passageways with warm salt water, a procedure that's easy to do using a ceramic neti pot.
Get external support
It's also possible to have snoring surgery—sort of like a face-lift for your throat—but it can be painful and expensive, and it doesn't always work. Because snoring often isn't a serious medical concern, you can try less invasive devices designed to stop snoring. These include dental mouthpieces and nasal strips that help keep your airways open. Another option is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system, a machine that pushes air through your throat via a mask attached to your nose that will keep your airway from collapsing. Although CPAP has a high success rate, some people find the device uncomfortable or the machine's noise more annoying than the sound of snoring. Usually you can solve these problems by having the mask fitted correctly, says Jaffe; at least a dozen different CPAP nasal and facial masks are available.
Accept a little help from your friend
If you've tried all these options and still keep the neighborhood up at night, don't fret. After all, in most cases the one with the biggest problem isn't the snorer, it's the listener. "The person who is really suffering through a lot of this stuff is the [partner]," says Simon. "I've discovered by looking at the Mayo Clinic's research that the spouse of a snorer wakes up an average of 21 times a night and loses an average of an hour of sleep each night." Your best bet is to approach the problem as a team with humor and understanding—often not an easy thing to do, considering your oral symphonies aren't always the nicest lullaby. (See "Couples' Best Tips for How to Sleep with a Snorer" below for a few time-tested strategies.) "It has been an epic journey," says Simon with a laugh about his and his wife's crusade against snoring. "I discovered there is no silver bullet for snoring, though my wife may have wanted to put a silver bullet in my head."
Joel Warner is a Boulder, Colorado-based freelancer who swears he doesn't snore, but you may want to double-check that with his wife.