Snoring can wreak havoc on the happiest of unions, and when you’re over 50, the battle for some decent shut-eye can be fiercer than ever. Banishing your beloved to the ‘snore room’ – or opting for separate bedrooms altogether – is nothing new. In fact, in the US where one in four couples sleep in different rooms, studies show dual master bedrooms are becoming a popular request when couples build a home!
Marital discord aside, that high-decibel wheezing and snuffling can also be a sign of serious health problems. So it’s worth getting checked out and looking into the treatments available, which can really offer hope.
What causes snoring and how common is it?
It’s thought that around half of the population over 50 snore to some degree – and in the general population it’s mostly blokes. That is, until women hit menopause, then they catch up in the snoring stakes (and sleep apnea statistics, too) due to hormone changes.
That said, the common causes of snoring can’t be discounted – such as drinking booze before bed, having a cold, sinus or hayfever; or simply being unlucky with your facial structure, says Dr Grant Wilson, director of the UC Sleep Clinic, Faculty of Health at Canberra University.
“People who are a normal weight or even skinny can be surprised to learn that they snore, but it's usually due to the size and the position of the jaw, which sits back a bit, crowding the airways,” he explains.
Why do we hesitate to treat snoring?
There are many reasons we opt not to treat snoring – from worrying treatments will be expensive and ineffective, to thinking we don’t have a problem in the first place! There’s a definite social stigma around snoring, say Dr Wilson.
“Snoring is almost like a dirty word between some couples,” he adds. “A lot of men for example, when told they snore, almost take it as a sign of weakness – and then that can set up a kind of [marital stand-off] where the person won’t do anything about it.”
A snorer often won’t be motivated to see help until they have a scary wake-up call in regards to their health. “Or, they might go on a fishing trip with a mate who comments on how badly they snore, and they decide to do something about it.”
Could your snoring add up to sleep apnea?
While evidence suggests snoring per se isn’t dangerous, it can be a marker of other health conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you’ve got OSA, it can be serious, raising your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and possibly heart attacks and stroke.
To find out if you have it (and how severe it is), a sleep investigation is key – and these are often done at home rather than in an unfamiliar sleep lab. You use a kit complete with wired patches stuck onto your skin that transmit data to the sleep lab.
“While you’re sleeping, the lab can monitor everything from your breathing to your brain activity, plus detailed measures of your breathing to see what's really going on and whether you have sleep apnea,” explains Dr Wilson.
Types of snoring treatments available
While there aren’t any ‘foolproof’ methods for treating snoring, many things work well – including losing weight if you need to, say experts. You could also try…
Snoring strips and dilators: “Results vary but they can work for snoring. There’s Mute, which goes into the nose and dilates the nostrils, or ProVent, which acts like a one-way valve over your nostril.” Costs: from $20 for Mute, $130 for a month’s supply of ProVent.
Positional therapy: “These devices help train you to lie on your side. The Night Shift Sleep Positioner is worn around the neck, and the BuzzPod is strapped around the chest. Both vibrate if you try to sleep on your back.” Costs range from around $380 per device.
Mandibular advancement splint (MAS): “These are used in the defense forces and are the main treatment for snoring. You put the splint into your mouth before you go to sleep and it works by bringing the tongue and jaw forward. They need to be made by a dentist but spend the money on a good one – a cheap splint may be uncomfortable and could pull your teeth out of alignment.” Costs: from $700 to $2000.
Surgical treatments: “There are a range of procedures done on the palate, or you take the tonsils out. You can even reduce the size of the tongue substantially, and relatively painlessly without affecting your taste or speech. The treatments on the palate are quite painful and it takes about three weeks to recover. A good surgeon will ‘trim’ the palate; do a sort of a tuck on it.” Costs: Talk to your GP.
Do you (or your partner) snore? How do you deal with it?