For 30 years, Santina Nato snored and for much of that time, she had no idea just how bad it was. Her partner was the first to break the news. “I really didn’t know,” says the 57-year-old sales associate from Paris, ON. “I’d get an elbow the ribs and be told to turn over, but it didn’t make me stop.”
She’s not alone. An estimated 40 percent of Canadians snore, leading to problems on multiple levels, from straining relationships with bedmates to increasing the risk of developing health issues, from chronic conditions, like heart disease, to depression.
The Quest to End Snoring
What to do about snoring has always been a challenge. Throughout history the remedies have been, well, rather desperate at times, from elaborate chin strips to securing mouths shut to barbed harnesses to rouse snorers. That search continues today, with a slew of devices promising a more peaceful sleep.
Try them if you dare, but research is lacking.
On the market, you’ll find some unconventional solutions, such as a tongue suction cup that aims to quell snoring by pulling the tongue forward to keep airways open and an acupressure ring, which supposedly hits a corresponding pressure point on the finger that is meant to turn down the volume of the snoring. If a bracelet is the preferred fashion choice, sleepers can buy one that uses electric shock to rouse them when it detects their freight train-like roar. Unfortunately, testers found that farting and sneezing also caused the device to give them a zap.
Musical types can give the didgeridoo a try, according to an Australian study (of course) that found a research group who practised playing the instrument for six days a week over four months was able to strengthen their throat muscles, which, in turn, helped ease snoring.
Snoring Versus Sleep Apnea
Nato tried several remedies. She used nasal strips, then, when she felt the culprit was related to blocked nasal passages, she opted for a decongestant spray at night. Next, she propped up the upper part of her body with pillows. Nothing worked,
Eventually, Nato and her partner retired to sleep in separate bedrooms, but not before her partner mentioned how Nato’s breathing would stop and start throughout the night. Nato went to see her family physician, who referred her to an ENT specialist, who then sent her to a sleep clinic.
“I’d say about a third of our patients come as a result of a partner pushing the other to get treatment,” says Dr. Michael Mak, a sleep medicine physician at the Sleep and Apnea Assessment Unit at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in London, ON. “Some of what I see is what we call simple snoring and is not associated with breath holding.”
How to Prevent Snoring
For simple snorers, he says losing 10 percent of their body weight often can do the trick. Snoring and sleep apnea are closely linked to obesity, with snoring rates increasing with a higher body mass index (BMI): About 25 percent of those people will have sleep apnea among those with a BMI of 25 to 30.
As for many devices online and elsewhere, Dr. Mak says: “There is no scientific evidence that indicates they are effective.” Instead, he suggests snorers avoid sleeping on their backs by sewing half of a tennis ball to the back of their pyjama top. This makes back sleeping uncomfortable and will prompt the wearer to flip onto their side, which will ease snoring.
Other ways to ensure a more peaceful night include: maintaining a cool, dark, quiet bedroom and using a humidifier to help easy dryness in the nasal passages. And, you may need to skip the evening nightcap. Alcohol makes snoring worse by causing the tissues around the back of the throat to relax and narrow airways.
Effective Treatments That Really Work
“Mild to medium forms of sleep apnea may be addressed by a mandibular advancement devices, available through dentists,” explains Dr. Mak. “They are custom fit for each patient to help push the bottom jaw forward, which keeps the airway clearer.”
To address obstructive apnea, a more serious form of snoring, physicians will often prescribe a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. It’s a type of ventilator that works by mechanically pushing compressed air via a hose and facemask to deliver constant air pressure and aid with breathing.
Newer models are skipping the facemask, which can be uncomfortable and feel claustrophobic for some wearers. Instead they use tubing connected directly to the nose without straps or headgear. The latest options also aim to be more lightweight and less noisy than their predecessors.
After being diagnosed with severe apnea – a condition she was unaware even existed – Nato opted to go the CPAP route six years ago. “It took a little while to get used to, but now, I wouldn’t sleep without it,” she says. For the first time in decades, she doesn’t feel drowsy during the day and she’s back sharing a bed with her partner. “I finally feel more like myself again.”
Want to learn more about snoring and treatments: Refer to Helen Sanders’ story, Why Do People Snore? on HealthAmbition.com