Snoring – What is it?
Snoring, like many other sounds is produced as the result of a certain vibration. If we take for example a set of speakerphones, we learn that they also produce sound by causing a magnetic membrane to vibrate in certain frequency generating sound waves. Snoring is no different, it also is the result of vibrations. As we breathe during our sleep, an obstruction in our airflow may cause nose and throat tissues to vibrate thereby generating the familiar sound of snoring.
Snoring – How Common is it?
Statistics show that 45% of men and 30% of women snore on a regular and daily basis. Interestingly, people who do not snore on a regular basis are snoring occasionally due to certain unique circumstances such as: Viral illness, drug abuse and alcohol consumption. Therefore, all people have the ability to snore. There are no absolute characteristics defining those who snore. Although people with weight problems and large necks could be looked upon as snorers, the skinny women with small necks could actually be the ones who do suffer from a snoring problem. Generally speaking, as we get older and possibly gain weight over the years, snoring problems do have the tendency to get worse.
The Causes of Snoring:
During normal breathing, air gets in and out of our lungs through our mouth or nose. This airflow generates normal breathing sounds which are barely heard because that the airflow moves in a steady and undisturbed stream through our breathing channels. As we sleep, certain conditions could form that causes the back of our throat to narrow. When our throat airway gets narrower, the same amount of air that would usually pass undisturbed during normal breathing will cause the tissues surrounding the throat to vibrate generating the familiar sound of snoring. Not all snoring conditions are caused by the same reasons. The narrowing can be located in the nose, mouth or throat area.
These are some of the most common reasons for snoring:
- Allergies, flew and having a cold.
- “Over-Relaxed” muscles due to alcohol and drug abuse.
- Smoking related airway obstruction.
- Congested Nose.
- Sleep Apnea.
- Deviated Septum.
- Sleeping Position.
The Connection between Nose and Normal Breathing:
Breathing through our nose is the ideal, natural way for us to breath. Our nose functions as a heater, filter and a humidity stabilizer in every breath we take. Breathing through our mouth can be sufficiently enough but no doubt the breathing quality is not the same as through our nose. You might have noticed in certain occasions that while breathing through our mouths, the air is drier, colder and dirtier making breathing uncomfortable.
The nose structure consists of two nasal tunnels beginning at the nostrils called the nasal cavity. These air tunnels are separated by a thin wall barrier called “septum“. The septum is a relative flat wall barrier which consists of bone, cartilage and the nasal mucosa (lining tissue). Each one of the two nasal tunnels has three nasal turbinates (Long cylindrical-shaped structures) from their lateral side and each one contains many small blood vessels. It is those blood vessels that control and regulate the airflow through the nose by the increase/decrease in size. When the blood vessels increase in size, the turbinate swells up and cause a decrease in airflow. In the same way, if the blood vessels decrease in size, the turbinate deflates and causes an increase in airflow.
It is a remarkable fact that the human nose has a natural nasal cycle in which every eight hours will shift the side of the nose that is doing most of the breathing. This means that if one of the turbinates gets swollen and a blockage is formed in one of the nose sides… after eight hours a shift will occur switching between the side that is blocked and the one that is free. This is especially noticeable when you have a cold or if you suffer from allergies.
“Mouth Breathers” and Snoring:
As mentioned, our body naturally aspires to breathe through the nose. Unfortunately, in case there is an obstruction the nasal structure, breathing through the nose becomes extremely difficult. This could be the result of a deviated septum, allergies, infection and physical deformities in nasal structure.
The majority of nasal obstruction conditions among adults are allergy related tissue swelling and septum deviation as a result of a broken nose.
Among children, the most common cause of nasal obstruction is enlarged adenoids.
People who breathe through their mouths are often called “mouth breathers” many of which snore due to intensified vibration caused by the flow of air through the mouth instead of the nose.
Soft Palate and Snoring:
Shaped like a sheet, the soft palate functions as a separator between the Oropharynx and the Nasopharynx. The soft palate is attached to the roof of the back mouth from three sides leaving a flap hanging freely in the back of the mouth.
The soft palate plays a crucial part in the breathing and swallowing action:
- As we breathe, the soft palate “opens” the nasal airway by moving forward allowing air to go into the lungs.
- As we swallow, the soft palate directs food and beverages into the esophagus instead of the back of the nose by moving backward thus “closing” nasal passages.
The uvula helps the soft palate functionality. This small extension of the soft palate also plays a role in the pronunciation of certain words in certain languages. For example, the Hebrew word “L’eChayim” like many other guttural fricative sounds cannot be pronounced without using the uvula.
The vibration of the soft palate together with the attached uvula is, often, the cause of snoring. Surgical treatments for snoring often include the removal of the uvula in which the ability of producing guttural fricative sounds is affected. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid any such surgery if you speak a language which uses guttural fricative sounds.
Narrowed Airways and Snoring:
The tonsils are located at the back of the throat – one on each side. They are designed to fight detected infections caused by bacteria and viruses. Like any other infection fighting tissue, they swell during an infection. Sometimes, the tonsils do not return to their normal size and remain hypertrophied in which case the airway gets narrowed and a vibration takes place and causes snoring.
As mentioned, this free hanging flap can cause snoring to take place if it is too long or floppy in which a vibration is generated.
If this soft palate extension is too thick or long, it may worsen the vibration that causes snoring.
Shaping the words we speak, swallowing and chewing are actions that could not be performed properly without the use of the tongue – a large muscle of high importance. The fact that the tongue is free to move in all directions is the key to all its abilities. This is made possible thanks to the base of the tongue which is attached to the mandible (Inner part of the jaw bone).
If the base of the tongue weakens during sleep it may cause the tongue to slip backwards into the throat narrowing the airways and generate a vibration resulting in snoring.