Dear Savvy Senior,
Over the past few years my 57-year-old husband’s snoring has gotten much worse. It’s to the point that I have to either wear earplugs or move to a different room. Any suggestions?
Sleep Deprived Susan
Snoring is a very common problem that often gets worse with age. Around 37 million Americans snore on a regular basis according to the National Sleep Center.
Snoring occurs when the airway narrows or is partly blocked during sleep usually due to nasal congestion, floppy tissue, alcohol, or enlarged tonsils. But you and your husband also need to know that snoring can be much more than just an annoyance. It can also be a red flag for obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition in which the snorer stops and starts breathing during sleep, increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia and hypertension. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 34 percent of men and 19 percent of women who snore routinely have sleep apnea or are at risk for it.
Even if you are unsure whether your husband has a primary snoring problem or sleep apnea, sleep experts suggest you start with these steps.
Open a stuffy nose: If nasal congestion is causing your husband to snore, over-the-counter nasal strips such as Breathe Right may help. Or, if allergies are the cause, try saline nasal sprays.
Elevate his head: Buying a foam wedge to elevate his head a few inches can help reduce snoring, or buy him a contoured pillow to lift his chin and keep the tongue from blocking the back of his throat as he sleeps. Also check out Nora (smartnora.com), a wireless snoring device that slides under the pillow and gently moves the head to a different position when snoring is detected. This, they say, stimulates the relaxed throat muscles and opens the airway.
Sleep on side: To prevent back sleeping, which triggers snoring, place a pillow against your husbands back to keep him from rolling over or sew a tennis ball in the back of his pajama shirt. Or check out the Night Shift Sleep Positioner (nightshifttherapy.com), a device that’s worn around the neck that vibrates when you roll on your back.
Avoid alcohol before bed: Alcoholic beverages can relax the muscles in the throat, and constrict airflow. He should not consume alcohol three to four hours before bedtime.
Lose excess weight: Fat around the neck can compress the upper airway and impede airflow and is often associated with sleep apnea.
Quit smoking: Smoking causes inflammation in the upper airways that can make snoring worse.
Need More Help
If these lifestyle strategies don’t make a big difference, your husband should see his doctor, a sleep specialist, or an otolaryngologist who may recommend an overnight study to test him for apnea.
For primary snoring or mild to moderate sleep apnea, an oral appliance that fits into the mouth like a retainer may be prescribed. This shifts the lower jaw and tongue forward, keeping the airway open.
Some other options are Theravent snore therapy (theraventsnoring.com) and Provent sleep apnea therapy (proventtherapy.com), which are small nasal devices that attach over the nostrils to improve airflow.
But the gold standard for moderate to severe sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device. This involves sleeping with a mask and is hooked up to a machine that gently blows air up your nose to keep the passages open.
If these don’t work or are intolerable, surgery is an option too. There are procedures available today that remove excess tissue in the nose, mouth, or throat. And a newer procedure called hypoglossal nerve stimulation that uses a small device implanted in the chest to help control the movement of the tongue when it blocks the airway.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.