The size of the snore

If we were to combine the sounds of all the world's snorers on any given night, you'd hear the snorting, snuffling symphony of roughly 25% of the adult population. Considering the average snore can reach 60 to 90 decibels, we're talking a seismic event here.

The source of the snore

You can usually blame snoring on some kind of obstruction in your nose or throat. Stuffy noses from allergies, congestion from a respiratory infection, swollen tonsils or adenoids, and even excess weight can all lead to snoring. Likewise, an oversized tongue or long uvula, that dangly flap of tissue at the back of your mouth, may be to blame. Tongue and throat muscles made weak by alcohol or certain medications can also slacken the tongue or cause the throat to close in on itself. When air tries to pass through any of these obstacles as you sleep, the result can be that sonorous snoring sound. Researchers have recently revealed a possible genetic component to snoring. So, if your dad kept you awake at night sawing logs, your chances of being a snorer may be higher.

The significance of the snore

Yea, snores get laughs on TV (think Homer Simpson), but there's a serious side to snoring. Often unnoticed by the snorer themselves, these nocturnal noises can signal serious health conditions, most notably sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea experience repeated loud snoring followed by breathing pauses as they sleep, and each pause can last 10 to 30 seconds. Waking between episodes means those with sleep apnea can get a pretty crummy night's sleep. Risks of daytime sleepiness, memory loss, high blood pressure, and heart problems can all result. When children snore, it can indicate risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The spin-offs of the snore

Author Anthony Burgess wrote: "Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone." As spouses and roommates around the world can attest, snoring doesn't just disturb the sleep of the snorer. It's estimated that those who (attempt to) sleep near snorers can lose an hour of sleep per night and may even experience higher blood pressure due to the noise.

The solutions to the snore

Your approach to soothing snoring will depend upon the severity of the problem. Treatments range from nose strips that hold airways open, to dental devices that reposition the jaw, and surgeries that remove the uvula or tighten the muscles in the throat. Some researchers have even found that playing wind instruments, particularly the Australian aboriginal instrument called a didgeridoo, can strengthen the muscles of the upper airway so it won't collapse and lead to snoring.

The best first steps would be to treat the source of the snore: clear up congestion, lose weight if you're overweight, or talk to your doctor about other treatment options. For light snorers, the solution may be as simple as a change in sleeping position. Snoring is more common when sleeping on your back, so shift to your side. Lifting the head of your bed a few inches, or propping your head up on a pillow may help, too. Also, try avoiding alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime and try to avoid medications such as sedatives and antihistamines before bedtime. Heavy snorers, those whose snoring is intense and causes disruption to their sleep and their family life, should see a doctor to check for signs of sleep apnea or nasal obstruction.

Amy Toffelmire