Snoring in women: Causes and cures

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Snoring keeps some of us up all night. This night ritual plays out in some bedrooms every night and can cause much embarrassment and concern.

According to the American National Sleep Foundation, snoring affects 90 million adults, 37 million of them on a regular basis. While men are twice as likely as women to snore among younger folk, that gap closes after menopause and women snore in equal numbers.
The American National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll in 2005 and found that sleep problems (most commonly snoring) not only have an impact on how well you sleep but can negatively affect relationships between room mates. The snoring situation is very bad, in fact, that more and more newly constructed homes are being built with two master bedrooms, or small “snoring rooms” for the offender. That may sound extreme, but only to someone who hasn’t been serenaded in the late hours by the irritating multiple incidences and breathing variations that constitute snoring — unlike white noise, which is constant and far less disturbing.
We spoke to ENT specialist Dr. Fawwaz Al-Gahtani from King Abdulaziz University hospital, who said that around 30 percent of adults over the age of 30 snore and women make up one-third of those snorers. “This might be caused by the turbulence of the upper airway that leads to vibrations of the soft palate and the uvula, which is the little flap that dangles down at the back of the throat,” said Dr. Al-Gahtani. “Some people have larger tongues or palates than others, or thick necks or a weak glossopharyngeal nerve, the one that helps control the tongue, “he added.
Snoring increase with age, the older women get, the more the possibility to snore more. “As women age, they start losing muscle tone everywhere, including in their palates, which become flabby and thus more susceptible to vibration. Allergies, smoking and being overweight also contribute to snoring,” said the ENT doctor. “Drinking hot herbal teas before going to sleep will help relax the muscles in the airway.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops for brief periods during sleep because the throat muscles can’t keep the airway consistently open. “This could lead to disturbed sleep and lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which in turn puts people at risk for cardiac problems such as hypertension and heart disease, not to mention daytime fatigue,” said Dr. Al-Gahtani. “The American National Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million people suffer from OSA and the majority of them are undiagnosed,” he added.
Women who snore rarely wake themselves up, this means many of them don’t even know about this unless their roommate points it out. “I usually highly encourage partners to not kick snorers out of bed, because then no one can monitor the nature of the snoring. In fact, most of our patients are women who are brought in by their husbands,” said Dr. Al-Gahtani. “If a man observes that his wife is inhaling, puffing or gasping, or her snoring is not steady and the volume goes up and down, then she should be evaluated for sleep apnea,” he added.
Overweight and out of shape women are most likely to snore. “Working on these issues can differently improve the quality of sleeping. Sports and healthy eating could help improve muscle tone, even in the palate,” said the ENT doctor.
Some women only snore when they lay down in a certain position, especially when lying on their backs. “This means women should take a second look at the arrangement of the pillows and maybe invest in a medical pillow,” said Dr. Al-Gahtani.
Studies show that women have different types of complaints. “Women usually suffer from insomnia, disrupted sleep, chronic fatigue and depression. These are not the usual symptoms of OSA,” said Dr. Al-Gahtani. “Women are more alert sleepers and are more likely to worry about their husbands’ sleep, whereas men are more sound sleepers and may be less likely to note abnormal sleep in their partners,” he added.

There are many treatments that can help snorers and those with OSA and not all treatments work with everyone. Dr. Al-Gahtani shares easy tips to follow to help with snoring.
1) Invest in a medical pillow that will help prevent the tissues in your throat from falling into your air passages.
2) If you are taking any kind of medication, talk to your doctor about alternatives. Some drugs can make snoring worse, including sleeping pills.
3) If nasal blocking is causing the snoring, you should take a decongestant or antihistamine before sleeping.
4) Sleep on the side. But there is no guarantee you’ll stay in that position, you should start by hugging a pillow. It is way better than sleeping on your back because that position makes your tongue and soft palate rest against the back of your throat, blocking the airway.
5) Make sure the bedroom is clear from dust, pet dander, mold to relieve nasal stuffiness by vacuuming floors and drapes. Change sheets and pillowcases at least once a week.
6) If you smoke, you better start working on a plan to quit smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates mucous membranes, so the throat swells, narrowing the airway. Smokers also have more problems with nasal congestion.
7) Dry air contributes greatly to snoring. A humidifier in the bedroom can keep the air passages moist. One must make sure to clean it regularly. An easier approach is to fill a bowl with hot water, drape a towel over your head, bend over the bowl so your nose is roughly 15 cm from the water and take deep breaths through the nose for a few minutes.
8) Skip heavy meals within three hours of going to sleep. This could cause the throat muscles to relax more than normal. And gargle with a peppermint mouthwash to shrink the lining of your nose and throat.
9) Try using nasal strips, which are available at drugstores. They’ll lift and open your nostrils to increase airflow.

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