How to curb a snoring habit the natural way
If your partner is a snorer, moving into the spare room is not the answer for either you or your partner. There are many things that can cause snoring and they need to be addressed. The good news is that there are natural and holistic approaches to keep snoring at bay. By turning to ancient Indian practices and a little modern dentistry, a silent night can be possible again.
Why sleep is so important
A good night’s sleep really is the key to good health. Getting a good night’s rest affects how much energy you have. Lack of sleep can seriously alter the balance of hormones in your body, disrupting your circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that having a regular circadian rhythm may be necessary for your body to defend against cancer through shifts in hormones such as melatonin, which the brain makes during sleep. Get enough sleep and your body has the time and hormones to heal and rejuvenate.
Dr Ron Ehrlich, a holistic dentist with a special interest in this area, says, “Snoring is the tip of the iceberg of sleep-disorder breathing. Getting enough sleep is very important for our overall health. Most of the population needs about seven to eight hours of sleep a night, depending on their individual needs. But it’s not just the number of hours you are in bed that is the key; it’s also important to get enough of the four levels of sleep and, in particular, the deeper levels of sleep — the third and fourth levels. That’s when the really good stuff starts to happen.”
It is at the later stages of sleep — the third and fourth stages — when the growth hormone begins to be secreted, that you begin to rebuild your body and regenerate your cells. “If we don’t get enough of the third and fourth levels of sleep,” says Dr Ehrlich, “our body can not heal and grow as it should.”
Yet it’s not just the snorer who has a disturbed night’s sleep. “We have to remember that there are snorers and snorees,” says Dr Ehrlich. “When you actually go to bed with somebody, you have a huge responsibility towards that person, too. If you are dismissing your snoring problem and not considering what effect it is having on your partner’s sleep and health, you are dismissing the most important part of their day. Without a good night’s sleep, all other plans for a healthy, happy and productive day can be ruined.
“How we eat, our plans to exercise, how we deal with our work colleagues and our family members — it is all affected by the way we sleep and the amount we get,” says Dr Ehrlich. “I should know — I used to snore and continued to ignore it until one day it got so bad my wife threatened me with moving into a different room! So I looked at how to address my snoring and as soon as I fixed it I realised how badly I had been sleeping before. I now wake up refreshed, I have more energy and my wife is happy to sleep next to me again!”
So, while you may think your snoring is not affecting you or your life, perhaps it is concern for your partner’s health and happiness that will motivate you into action.
Rule out the big things first
About 60 per cent of people who regularly snore also have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in which the soft tissues in the throat, including the tongue, collapse and are sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway and air flow is either reduced or stopped altogether. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough, the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears and the flow of air starts again, usually with a gasp. Most people are not aware this is occurring. This cycle of apnoea — obstruction and breathing — can occur many times per hour during sleep and stops the snorer getting into the deeper stages of sleep.
People with OSA have low blood oxygen levels and the apnoea can lead to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, so it is very important to rule out OSA before commencing any other treatment. One of the easiest ways to check whether you may suffer from OSA or other sleep problems is to search on the internet for the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (put into any search engine) and fill out the questionnaire. It’s really insightful to get someone close to you to also fill it out for you as well. While you may rate your chance of falling asleep during a movie as very low, your husband may rate your likelihood very high. Your score in the questionnaire can help determine whether there is a bigger underlying sleep problem, such as OSA.
It’s all in the mouth
Once the broader issues of sleep apnoea and other serious health concerns have been considered, it’s time to look at some other techniques and aids to try to clear the airways so the snoring stops. Dr Ehrlich says there are a number of techniques your dentist and sleep specialist can consider.
“One of the solutions we consider when looking to fix someone’s snoring problem is whether the tongue is causing the jaw to drop back at night and block the airway. If that’s the case, we can look at using a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP, pronounced see-pap).” CPAP treatment uses a positive air pressure to hold the airway open during sleep. The positive air pressure is generated by a pump (the CPAP machine) and is applied through a small mask which fits over the nose, or the nose and mouth.
“The problem with CPAP for many people is that it is cumbersome and uncomfortable — it is a mask hooked up to a machine,” warns Dr Ehrlich, “and compliance rates are, depending on the studies you read, only 15–30 per cent. But it may be right for some people.”
An alternative to the CPAP is to use a mandibular advancement splint to hold the airways open and the tongue forward — basically, an upper and lower mouth guard. Depending on the study you look at, a mandibular advancement splint has a much higher compliance rate at 80–90 per cent. However, Dr Ehrlich does have some warnings for people looking to use this method to reduce their snoring.
“The health of the jaw joint is very important. As these splints can alter the way the jaw sits and how the teeth come together, you must make sure you have a fully qualified dentist fit your jaw, X-ray it and address any jaw-related problems at the same time.”
The natural approach
While technology and dentistry can be enormously successful in reducing snoring, Dr Ron Ehrlich and others all agree that lifestyle, diet and exercise are just as important in addressing snoring. Mark Bunn, a Sydney-based natural health coach and author of Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health, says Ayurveda has lots of remedies for snoring and ensuring a better night’s sleep.
“First of all, we need to look at the foods you eat leading up to sleep. In Ayurveda, eating heavy, hard-to-digest foods, particularly late at night, is not only one of the main causes of weight gain over time (a key cause of snoring), but it diverts the body’s resources away from the more important activities at night.”
Bunn suggests eating light, warm, spicy or pungent foods for the evening meal — black pepper, chilli and cayenne pepper are great. This allows the body to digest the food before heading to bed, meaning the food does not get stuck in the gut and block the sinuses, the digestive system and the body’s energy channels. Dairy is the most important food group to avoid — that yoghurt for dessert or that glass of milk before bed will only aggravate the mucus and sinuses.
Of course, there are also snoring “promoters”, which should be avoided as much as possible. These include alcohol, smoking, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers or sedatives, and antihisamines. All these tend to relax the smooth muscle involved in snoring.
Breathe in, breathe out
Snoring is aggravated by poor breathing habits and inefficiencies in the respiratory organs. Deep nasal, diaphragmatic breathing — often taught in yoga classes — can really help in learning a new way of breathing. Integrating better breathing into your exercise regime and daily life is really important as a long-term remedy to snoring. The key is you can’t just focus on your breathing 10 minutes before trying to sleep; it’s something you must practise throughout the day, and particularly during any form of exercise.
“Imagine a garden hose that is left out in the backyard for many years without being used properly,” says Mark Bunn. “Over time, it gets clogged up with dirt, stones and rubbish until it eventually gets blocked and no longer works. By not breathing properly for many years, the sinuses and nasal airways get blocked and lose efficiency. Breathing properly each day is one of the best ways to keep the sinuses and nasal airways clear and functioning at optimal performance.”
Proper sleeping position
Anyone who has ever nudged a snorer in the middle of the night to roll over knows only too well that the position a snorer sleeps in greatly increases the amount they snore. Yet there is more to consider than just back versus side when it comes to improving breathing and sleep.
Snorers, of course, should try to avoid sleeping on their backs. According to Ayurveda, the left side is the best to sleep on, especially if you have just eaten a meal right before going to bed. This position aids with digestion and helps the energies continue to move through the body, even when you are lying down. You can also try sleeping with your chin towards your chest. This position tends to promote breathing through your nose rather than through your open mouth. In fact, Mark Bunn suggests a partner can try to adjust the position of their snoring partner’s head while sleeping to try to promote nasal breathing, which may be friendlier than shoving them out of the bed!
And, finally, nasal strips can also be of some aid in encouraging breathing through the nose. These little plastic strips can be bought from a chemist and can help widen the nasal passages and promote nasal breathing.
A little scent
If blocked sinuses and poor nasal breathing seem to be the main causes of the snoring in your family, there are also a number of oils, inhalations and aromatherapy that can assist. With all the following remedies, Mark Bunn again suggests it’s important that you don’t just try this a few minutes before going to bed but rather try to establish a practice throughout the day, which can “train” your sinuses to open up and breathe properly, so when it does come to bedtime, you’re all ready.
An ancient Ayurvedic practice is to sniff and gargle sesame oil. A number of times a day, and again before bed, try gargling cold-pressed sesame oil (preferably slightly warm) and put a little of the same sesame oil on a finger and sniff up each nostril. “Sesame oil is known in Ayurveda as being particularly effective at drawing out toxins, impurities and mucus, which block sinuses and cause congestion,” Bunn says.
Another very effective technique is eucalyptus inhalations. Try placing your head over a bowl of boiling water with 2–3 drops of eucalyptus oil. Cover your head with a towel, close your eyes and inhale through your nose for a few minutes. An electric aromatherapy diffuser with water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil or marjoram oil next to your bed overnight can also be a great help, or try soaking some eucalyptus leaves in boiling water for a few minutes before draining off the liquid and drinking it when it is warm.
By combining the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with some healthy exercise and weight loss, yoga breathing and a check with your holistic dentist to see if your jaw and tongue need repositioning, a good night’s sleep may be a reality again — for you and your partner.
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a freelance writer and radio producer at 702 ABC Sydney. She is the ABC’s regular parenting commentator and writes on social issues, parenting and wellbeing. You can find her blog The Mummy Monologues on the ABC’s parenting website abc.net.au/parenting.
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