Every night, in homes across the country, bedrooms reverberate with the trumpeting, whistling, whining and grunting of the nation’s snorers.
It’s a deafening cacophony that blights an estimated 60 per cent of the population — and their long-suffering partners — and fuels a lucrative and ever-growing trade in snore-busting gadgets and remedies.
But as anyone who’s tried the throat sprays, nasal dilators, jaw slings or mouth splints that claim to ease snoring will know, snoring is infuriatingly difficult to fix.
It is just one more insulting consequence of the ageing process, and therefore extremely common. But despite that, few people appreciate quite how debilitating it can be for your health and your relationships.
As one of the UK’s top ear, nose and throat consultants, I see a regular stream of patients whose lives are blighted by the sounds they make when they’re asleep. But I am convinced that the vast majority of snoring cases can be swiftly and inexpensively fixed — by spending just five minutes a day doing a few simple throat exercises.
The plethora of gadgets and sprays on the market rarely work — but my studies show that these exercises definitely do.
FROM AGEING TO BOOZE, WHY SNORING HAPPENS
Although the shape of your face, skull and neck could make you more susceptible to snoring, and a blocked nose, enlarged tonsils and a heavy night of alcohol will make things worse, the single most common cause is slack throat muscles.
At night, when we drift into the deepest phases of sleep and all our muscles relax, the tissues at the back of the throat can become floppy, causing the air that passes through them to makes a noise like a flag flapping in the wind.
The volume and intensity of those snores will depend partly on the turbulence of the airflow (how hard you have to force the lungs to push air through this restricted space) and partly on the resonance (or floppiness) of the tissues of your throat. These include the soft palate (the fleshy part at the back of the roof of the mouth), the uvula (the dangly thing at the back of your throat) and the epiglottis (the flap of tissue which sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat and closes the windpipe while you are eating to prevent food entering your airways).
As these tissues vibrate they trap air against the back wall of the throat for a split second, causing a high pressure build-up of air and subsequent sound waves, like that produced when you clap your hands together.
If you are overweight the problem — and volume — will be exacerbated as layers of fat increase the pressure on the windpipe when you are lying down, forcing your lungs to work harder to push air through the restricted gap.
A few drinks will make snoring worse, too, because alcohol acts as a sedative, keeping you for longer in the deep sleep that relaxes all your muscles — including the muscles of your throat and tongue.
WHY IT’S BAD FOR YOU…
The snorer might sound as if they are blissfully sleeping, but their body will be struggling to get air in and out through slack and floppy airways and this extra effort will ultimately compromise the quality of the deeply restorative phases of sleep.
This is the time when the vitally important mental and physical repair process is supposed to happen, and the heart should be able to slow and rest.
Although snoring is more likely to occur if you are overweight, it can also trap you in a vicious cycle whereby the snoring itself triggers weight gain. Studies show poor sleep typically stimulates the appetite for sweet and fatty foods as your body fights to cope with fatigue.
As long-term snoring causes protracted sleep deprivation, which in turn means your snoring worsens, the weight piles on. This then increases your risk of obesity-related disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, even some cancers.
… AND YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Snoring is a potent trigger for bitterness, ridicule and resentment in relationships and studies show that for around 6 per cent of couples, bad snoring can be enough to trigger marriage breakdown.
Inveterate snorers, and therefore their bed partners, rarely get close to achieving even the lower recommended target of six hours of restful sleep each night. Studies show the partner of a snorer loses 90 minutes of sleep most nights and so gradually builds a sleep debt that can never be replenished.
There’s nothing sexy about snoring, and it is such a subject of ridicule that the psychological trauma of appearing unattractive to your partner (even when asleep) can have irrevocable consequences for both sexes.
Studies show men and women who are deprived of sleep report lower libidos and less interest in sex due to depleted energy, sleepiness and increased tension. Men are often alarmed to learn that snoring can have a direct effect on their ability to maintain an erection, too.
Over time, the elevated blood pressure caused by regular snoring will damage the blood vessels, making them thicker and restricting blood flow — a problem which very often affects the tiny capillaries of the sex organs first.
If your snoring is a source of stress between you, this can make ‘performance anxiety’ worse, and concern about ‘underperformance’ can be the kiss of death for a sexual relationship.
REMEDY THAT’S FREE AND SIMPLE
It’s not surprising that so many snorers search for solutions on the chemist’s shelves. But they may well be wasting their time — and money.
In the vast majority of cases the problem can be cured — or massively reduced — for free.
Studies have shown that if you exercise those slackened throat muscles, just as you would your quads or biceps in the gym, you can build back their strength and tone, and return the structures of your throat to their former youthful condition.
Stopping snoring is within your grasp — and it’s as simple as committing to a few minutes of throat exercises every day.
GIVE YOUR THROAT A DAILY WORKOUT
For some years specialists in the U.S. have been studying the effectiveness of exercises in tightening and toning the throat muscles, and research shows near-miraculous results.
Daily targeted exercises can reduce snoring volume by 60 percent and frequency by 39 per cent. That’s a far, far better result than you’d get from anything you might be able to pick up at the chemist.
However, the muscle-toning routines used in these American studies are complex and convoluted, requiring reams of instruction and 45 minutes of diligent daily practice. This, in my opinion, isn’t sustainable, no matter how much snoring blights your life.
So I have distilled the essence of those elaborate plans to create a complete high-energy throat workout of nine simple exercises which everyone can quite quickly run through after brushing their teeth at night or every morning. I think of it as yoga for the mouth and recommend it to all my snoring patients, with great success.
Many people will notice improvements even after the first night, but you’ll need to stick at it.
It might take three months of daily practice to achieve top tone (and minimal snoring), but once there, dipping into the exercises every so often is usually enough to stop the throat from falling back into its former slack state.
I urge my patients to download one of many snoring apps available. Many, such as Snorelab, are free for the most basic function, which is perfectly adequate.
Once you have downloaded it on to your phone (or tablet) you place your device face down on the bedside table next to you before you go to sleep and it will record your snoring throughout the night.
Try using it before you start the exercises, to get a baseline reading, then use it again at intervals to monitor your progress.
Very quickly you should notice a reduction in the volume of your snoring as the tissues tighten, and ultimately a reduction in snoring frequency, too.