We sleep for two apparent reasons: to rest and relax after surviving another day, while simultaneously conserving energy for the next, and to facilitate the transition of every small lesson that toilsome day taught us from short-term memory to long-term memory.
Obviously, when our body relaxes, our muscles become dormant. When the muscles in our airway relax, parts not supported by cartilage, such as our tongue, soft palate, uvula (the flesh reminiscent of a punching bag that dangles in your throat) and tonsils, obstruct the air flowing through it. When we inhale, the air hits these respiratory structures, causing them to vibrate and create turbulence. Snoring is nothing but the sound produced by that turbulence and those vibrations. The narrower the airway gets, the louder the snoring that is produced.
While snoring is common among a variety of mammals and equally obnoxious when produced by each of them, its obtrusive nature compels us to ask whether we should be worried about our roaring beloveds.
Symptom Not Illness
Sleep specialists recognize snoring not as an illness, but as a telling symptom. Loud snoring is the primary symptom of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by troubled or irregular breathing while sleeping, which will force one to occasionally awake, gasping for air.
A patient will be deprived of oxygen due to a complete blockage of their airway. The body, deprived of oxygen for more than a few seconds, will rouse reflexively to resume its normal breathing. These momentary arousals will make for fragmented, and therefore unsatisfactory, sleep. The severe obstruction of a patient’s airway exacerbates the turbulence and amplifies snoring.
A lack of sleep, which is as important to us as food, will negatively alter our behavior. Patients suffering from sleep apnea are fatigued throughout the day, both physically and mentally. The constant somnolence renders them forgetful, unable to concentrate and emotionally erratic.
Sleep apnea is usually treated by wearing a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine, a mask that blows air into the patient’s airway through the nostrils, or through the nostrils and the mouth, to clear the obstruction and provide a seamless supply of oxygen.
However, not every bout of coughing is confirmation of throat cancer. A survey found that among the 44% and 28% of the men and women who snore, only 4% and 2%, respectively, suffered from sleep apnea. One’s airway can suffer even greater suffocation for the simple reason that one’s tissues are larger. More often than not, people snore because they have an unusually large uvula (the weird thing that dangles at the back of the throat) or tongue.
To deter their tongue from blocking their airway, people are recommended to sleep on their sides and not on their backs. While following this ritual, some go to the extent of attaching a ball to the back of their pajamas! Then there are children who are shockingly heavy snorers for they possess an abnormally large pair of tonsils, which, like excess, undesirable nasal tissues, can be surgically removed.
Other causes of snoring are self-inflicted. Alcohol is a renowned depressant that will severely inhibit muscle activity, which will definitely amplify snoring. Smoking will cause your nasal tissues to inflame or swell, thereby narrowing your airway. Cessation would be the obvious solution.
Then there are the common cold and allergies, which can cause a frustrating clogging of your airway. One can drain the nose with nasal drops or steroid sprays. And finally, there’s aging. As you grow older, your infirm muscles will readily succumb to inactivity and make you more likely to snore. Aging, of course, has no cure, yet.