Snoring: causes and associated treatments

Sleep hygiene

Sleep, most of the time synonymous with calm and rest, can sometimes be noisy. Indeed, rest can be greatly disturbed by a very common sleep disorder: snoring. Although snoring is not always a nuisance to the sleeper, but rather to those around him or her, it can be a sign of serious sleep problems and may require specific treatment.

What causes snoring?

During the night, all the muscles in the body relax to rest. As the tissues of the throat and tongue relax, the upper respiratory tract collapses. The air that continues to pass through the reduced airways will then create sound vibrations in the tissues, otherwise known as “snoring”. This is the same effect that occurs when the nasal passages are blocked during a cold.

In some cases, the obstruction is so severe that air can no longer pass through, causing breathing to stop during the night: this is known as sleep apnoea. These short pauses in breathing can be worrying for those around you, but above all they are detrimental to the quality of your sleep. Micro-awakenings break up sleep without the sleeper being aware of it, greatly reducing its restorative function.

What can you do about snoring?

  • Watch your weight

Being overweight is one of the main factors in triggering or aggravating snoring, since excess fat around the pharynx contributes to increased obstruction of the airways.

Losing weight can therefore be an effective way of limiting or even preventing snoring. To find out more about the interaction between sleep and diet, read our article Sleep & weight.

  • Sleep on your stomach or on your side

Sleeping on your back increases the pressure exerted on your throat. There are various systems, such as special pillows, that can make the back position uncomfortable, forcing the sleeper to adopt a different position naturally. For two out of three snorers, simply adopting a side position is enough to stop the snoring.

  • No alcohol in the evening

Alcohol (like certain medicines) contributes to muscle relaxation. Drinking alcohol in the evening therefore contributes to further obstruction of the airways by relaxing the muscles a few hours later.

  • Sleep appliances

There are various treatments for snoring, depending on its nature. Snoring without pauses in breathing (apnoeas) or other types of respiratory events (hypopnoeas, for example) is known as “simple” snoring. Only a specialised examination, such as ventilatory polygraphy or polysomnography, can determine the precise nature of the snoring.

When snoring is associated with sleep apnoea, CPAP is recommended, or in some cases maxillofacial surgery. On the other hand, in the case of simple snoring, a local treatment such as a nasal spray may be prescribed. Other treatments such as nasal dilators may be considered, although they are not suitable for everyone and their effects may be limited. If the snoring is very loud and socially intrusive, treatment with a mandibular propeller may also be considered.

It is also advisable to treat any associated pathologies that may induce or aggravate snoring, such as allergic rhinitis, nasal obstruction for various reasons, septal deviation, polyposis, etc.

Surgery on the soft palate is becoming increasingly rare, as its effectiveness is limited in time and it is not without risk.