Sunderland sleep expert on why we should wake up to the snoring problem

Dr Paul Innerd
Dr Paul Innerd
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It seems like such a small thing.

But snoring is proving a real headache for many couples up and down the country struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

This week is National Stop Snoring Week and we have enlisted the help of sleep expert, Dr Paul Innerd, from the University of Sunderland, to break down some of the myths surrounding snoring.

So while snoring can cause friction between couples and disturb your night’s sleep, there are more serious consequences.

Why do we snore?

Snoring is a distinctive sound made by vibrations between the soft tissues in your mouth and throat.

When you’re awake, these muscles support the airways keeping them open to allow you to breath. When we fall asleep, muscles which normally support these soft tissues relax, causing the size of the airway to get slightly smaller, particularly in the nose and throat.

Often, breathing can become obstructed causing someone to snore.

The sound of snoring can originate anywhere from the nose to the back of the throat. Typically, snoring is caused by soft tissues at the back of the mouth resting on the tongue.

Is snoring bad for us?

The problems caused by snoring are often much worse than just keeping your bed partner awake at night.

Loud snoring indicates the airways are being obstructed, which in turn reduces breathing. Reduced breathing lowers oxygen levels in the body which prevents someone from sleeping deeply, resulting in disrupted, poor quality sleep.

So, poor quality sleep caused by snoring can leave us tired, irritable and has also been linked to lower libido.

Also, persistent snoring can significantly reduce someone’s quality of life, often contributing to relationship or marital problems. However, in the long term poor quality sleep caused by snoring can cause serious health problems

What are the serious health problems it can cause?

Snoring can be continuous throughout the night or might get worse enough to cause pauses in breathing. Pauses in breathing during sleep are called “apnoeas”.

Apnoeas can lead to choking and restrict oxygen supply to the body.

If apnoeas occur too often or for too long this can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

People with OSA are rarely aware of these episodes of obstructed breathing. If our bodies do not get enough oxygen our brain responds by trying to wake us up.

However, we don’t wake up fully and typically just start the process of falling asleep again.

Nevertheless, this can happen continuously throughout the night. As a result, we think we have had a good night’s sleep when in fact we haven’t.

That sounds worrying, what exactly are the consequences of OSA?

OSA significantly reduces the quality of sleep someone gets and therefore causes major health problems. People with OSA gain weight more easily.

Poor sleep upsets the balance of hormones that control hunger and causes an increase in appetite. Not only this, but studies have shown poor sleep makes us desire higher calorie foods.

Tiredness tends to make us less physically active. Combined, these facts can lead to weight gain and increase our risk of becoming obese.

In addition to this, research shows snoring caused by OSA increases someone’s risk of developing high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Over time this leads to cardiovascular disease and ultimately the risk of stroke or heart attack.

Just how loud do we snore?

The level where noise starts to have an effect on sleep is around 40dB but snoring can range from about 50dB to 90+dB. However, the loudest snorer has been recorded at 111.6 decibels, equivalent to a hand-drill or motorcycle.

Research shows that the internal vibration in the inner ear caused by snoring can be high enough to damage hearing. In fact, there have been cases where bed partners of loud snorers have developed partial deafness in the ear that generally faces their snoring bedmate.

So, what can I do to reduce my snoring?

It depends on the cause. Sleeping on your back can cause snoring whilst sleeping on your side does not. Common lifestyle causes exist which can be changed. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles and makes us more likely to snore. So try not drinking close to bed time. Obesity or being overweight, especially if you carry fat around the neck, can cause snoring. Snoring is far less common in people who are of normal body weight. Also, we tend to snore if we haven’t got much sleep recently so making sure you get regular good quality sleep can help.

*If you have very bad snoring or OSA you should see your GP. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is often used to control sleep apnoea and the snoring associated with it. CPAP involves wearing a mask connected to a device that pumps air into the nose or mouth.

Snoring facts

• There are around 15 million snorers in the UK. 10.5 million men and 4.5 million women.

• Snoring is common but it is not normal.

• Snorers are three times more likely to suffer adverse health conditions than non-snorers.

• Snoring can be hereditary - nearly 70% of snorers have a familial link.

• Bed partners of snorers report they have just three to five hours sleep per night

• Over one third of couples report disharmony within the relationship due to snoring

• Bed partners of snorers physical and mental health improves significantly once the snorer has been treated successfully

• The louder you snore, the more likely you are to be overweight.