You may be among the 45% of normal adults who snore at least occasionally or you likely know someone who does. He (or she) may be the brunt of jokes at family gatherings ("Uncle Joe snores so loudly he rattles the windows!"), but snoring is serious business.
For one, a snoring spouse often keeps the other person from a good night's sleep, which can eventually lead to separate bedrooms. "Snoring can create real problems in a marriage," says Daniel P. Slaughter, MD, an otolaryngologist and snoring expert at Capital Otolaryngology in Austin, Texas.
Not only is snoring a nuisance, but 75% of people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea (when breathing is disrupted during sleep for short periods), which increases the risk of developing heart disease, Slaughter says.
Use caution before you self-treat with over-the-counter sprays and pills until you've checked with your doctor, says Sudhansu Chokroverty, MD, FRCP, FACP, program director for Clinical Neurophysiology and Sleep Medicine at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J. "Many stop-snoring aids are marketed without scientific studies to support their claims," says Chokroverty, who is also a neuroscience professor at Seton Hall University's School of Health and Medical Sciences.
Instead, try these natural solutions and lifestyle changes, which may help you stop snoring.
1. Change Your Sleep Position.
Lying on your back makes the base of your tongue and soft palate collapse to the back wall of your throat, causing a vibrating sound during sleep. Sleeping on your side may help prevent this.
"A body pillow (a full-length pillow that supports your entire body) provides an easy fix," Slaughter says. "It enables you to maintain sleeping on your side and can make a dramatic difference."
Taping tennis balls to the back of your pajamas can also stop you from sleeping on your back, Chokroverty says. "Or you can recline the bed with the head up and extended, which opens up nasal airway passages and may help prevent snoring. This may cause neck pain, however." If snoring continues regardless of the sleep position, obstructive sleep apnea may be a cause. "See a doctor in this case," Chokroverty says.
2. Lose Weight.
Weight loss helps some people but not everyone. "Thin people snore, too," Slaughter says.
If you've gained weight and started snoring and did not snore before you gained weight, weight loss may help. "If you gain weight around your neck, it squeezes the internal diameter of the throat, making it more likely to collapse during sleep, triggering snoring," Slaughter says.
3. Avoid Alcohol.
Alcohol and sedatives reduce the resting tone of the muscles in the back of your throat, making it more likely you'll snore. "Drinking alcohol four to five hours before sleeping makes snoring worse," Chokroverty says. "People who don't normally snore will snore after drinking alcohol."
4. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene.
Poor sleep habits (also known as poor sleep "hygiene") can have an effect similar to that of drinking alcohol, Slaughter says. Working long hours without enough sleep, for example, means when you finally hit the sack you're overtired. "You sleep hard and deep, and the muscles become floppier, which creates snoring," Slaughter says.
5. Open Nasal Passages.
If snoring starts in your nose, keeping nasal passages open may help. It allows air to move through slower, Slaughter says. "Imagine a narrow garden hose with water running through. The narrower the hose, the faster the water rushes through."
Your nasal passages work similarly. If your nose is clogged or narrowed due to a cold or other blockage, the fast-moving air is more likely to produce snoring.
A hot shower before you go to bed can help open nasal passages, Slaughter says. Also, keep a bottle of saltwater rinse in the shower. "Rinse your nose out with it while you're showering to help open up passages," Slaughter says.
A neti pot could also be used to rinse out the nasal passages with a salt-water solution.
Nasal strips may also work to lift nasal passages and open them up -- if the problem exists in your nose and not within the soft palate.
6. Change Your Pillows.
Allergens in your bedroom and in your pillow may contribute to snoring. When did you last dust the overhead ceiling fan? Replace your pillows?
Dust mites accumulate in pillows and can cause allergic reactions that can lead to snoring. Allowing pets to sleep on the bed causes you to breathe in animal dander, another common irritant.
"If you feel fine during the day but obstructed at night, these things may be contributing to your snoring," Slaughter says.
Put your pillows in the air fluff cycle once every couple weeks and replace them every six months to keep dust mites and allergens to a minimum. And keep pets out of the bedroom.
Beware before spending money on special pillows designed to prevent snoring, Chokroverty says. "They may work if it props up your head, which fixes nasal issues, but can cause neck pain."
7. Stay Well Hydrated.
Drink plenty of fluids. "Secretions in your nose and soft palate become stickier when you're dehydrated," Slaughter says. "This can create more snoring." According to the Institute of Medicine, healthy women should have about 11 cups of total water (from all drinks and food) a day; men require about 16 cups.
Overall, get enough sleep, sleep on your side, avoid alcohol before bedtime and take a hot shower if nasal passages are clogged, Slaughter says. "These simple practices can make a huge difference in reducing snoring."