If you spend your nights unconsciously doing your best impersonation of a Harley Davidson, chances are you wake up next to a significant other who is significantly less impressed by your talents as a motorcycle impersonator. You’re not alone: around 50% of people, most of them men, snore occasionally, and a full 25% do it every night. The crickets don’t stand a chance!
Why do we snore?
Occasional snoring is typically caused by a temporary obstruction of the nasal passages, such as when you have a cold or allergies. When the rumbling happens every night, even if your sinuses are completely clear, it’s because your tongue is too relaxed and obstructs the passage of air at the back of the throat. Although it is generally difficult to establish the exact reasons, a few patterns have been observed:
- Being overweight. Obesity, and above all excess weight around the neck, can cause an obstruction and prevent air from flowing freely—this is not to say that slim people are all silent sleepers! If the onset of your snoring coincided with weight gain, then the problem will likely disappear as you begin to shed extra pounds.
- Sleeping on your back. In this position, your tongue relaxes toward the back of your throat and on the soft palate, blocking airflow. But how can you stay on your side while you sleep, you ask? Until it becomes a habit, you can try sleeping with your back against a wall or some cushions, or you can put a bra on backwards (or a sock pinned to your pajama back) and fill it with uncomfortable objects: tennis balls, Lego bricks or your little one’s plush toy. Note: Avoid doing this in front of your teenager’s friends (so as to not embarrass your kid to death).
- An inadequate pillow. It’s simple. A pillow that doesn’t provide enough support because it’s too soft or too thick can make the situation worse. A firm foam pillow, which keeps the head and neck well aligned with the body, is sometimes all it takes to solve the problem.
Snoring is also sometimes caused by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can cause a number of health problems and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Let the music begin! And no, we’re not talking about your snoring, because it’s probably not all that musical… Instead, try taking up singing or playing the bassoon! People who sing or play a wind instrument are less likely to suffer from sleep apnea and snore. Some studies have even examined the question: it turns out that the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians, is a very effective treatment for apnea. If you think your family might object to your didgeridooing, join a choir instead! Singing is free and it can lift your spirits to boot!
Exercise. Not hockey or swimming, but exercises that strengthen the pharyngeal muscles and the tongue, to be practiced three times a day. And yes, there have been studies on the topic:
- Run the tip of your tongue over your palate, starting behind the teeth and finishing off at the back of the hard palate by following the line down the centre. Repeat 20 times before giving your tongue a rest.
- Suck your thumb… without using your thumb. The goal of the exercise is to create suction by holding the tongue against the palate for a few seconds. Repeat 20 times without lowering your tongue.
Note: Avoid doing the following exercises while riding the subway:
- Stick out your tongue as far as possible without curling it. Wag it from side to side. Keep doing this for 10-15 seconds, or until your tongue gets tired.
- Stick out your tongue for 20 seconds and try to touch your nose with it.
These muscle-toning exercises won’t yield immediate results, but if you persevere, you might be surprised by the outcome. After a few weeks, your career as a Harley impersonator may finally be over… and the crickets will sing again.