Whether you are the snorer or the snoree (the long-suffering partner of the snorer), chances are you've spent many a night on the couch. Night after night of disturbed sleep because of rumbling and wheezing from one side of the bed is extremely trying – on your health and your relationship. And even if the snorer sleeps soundly through their own two-stroke motor show, their sleep will probably still be interrupted by the various knees to the back and jabs to the ribs from an irritated bed buddy.
Why we snore
Snoring happens when a collapse, blockage or restriction to the upper airway hinders the flow of air through the back of the mouth or nose. The sound is created by the vibration of the soft tissues at the back of the throat.
There are a number of reasons why you might be snoring:
- You've got a cold.
- You've been drinking alcohol, which causes the tongue and muscles in the throat to relax.
- You're overweight. Overweight people have extra bulk around the neck that can restrict their airways. Being overweight is the most common cause of persistent snoring. There's also experimental evidence that abdominal fat pushes the chest up towards the upper airway, which then loses its tension, becoming floppy.
- You have an enlarged tongue, uvula, tonsils or adenoids.
- You have vocal cord dysfunction.
- You take sleeping pills or muscle relaxants.
- You have nasal congestion or a bent septum (the wall that separates the nostrils).
- You have an illness such as hypothyroidism or a disease affecting the central nervous system.
- You have sleep apnoea.
- You're lying on your back.
Sounds of silence
Sleep-deprived adults on the verge of break-up are sitting ducks for companies looking to peddle their wares. Anti-snoring devices include:
- nasal strips and dilators
- essential oils inhalations and throat sprays
- homeopathic throat sprays and tablets.
In search of evidence that any of these products work, we contacted the manufacturers or suppliers of a number of popular anti-snoring products, asking them to provide documentation to support their product's claims.
We also searched medical literature and spoke to the following experts:
- otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist)
- researcher from a sleep centre
- professor of sleep medicine
- dental prosthetist
The maker of the Dentons Anti-Snore Silent Knight Therapeutic Pillow claims it stops or reduces snoring for the 70% of people who snore "… due to restricted breathing, caused by bad posture during sleep". Despite repeated requests, the company didn't provide evidence to back up this claim.
The company behind Dick Wicks Magnetic Anti-Snore Pillow told us the pillow prevents snoring by supporting the user's neck, keeping the soft palate away from the throat. It had no studies to support this theory.
The magnetic part of the pillow is supposed to reduce pain but, again, it didn't provide evidence to support this claim. And when CHOICE looked at static magnet therapy, we didn't find conclusive evidence for pain relief either.
The only clinical trial of a pillow we could find compared three popular snoring aids – a nasal strip, a throat spray and a specially designed pillow – that found all three ineffective.
Theoretically, something that extends the neck may open the airway. But experts doubt a pillow could hold a person in one position to keep their neck extended for the whole night, particularly if they're prone to tossing and turning.
Nasal strips and dilators
Nasal strips and dilators help open the nasal passages so the user can breathe more freely through the nose rather than the mouth.
The Breathe Right website lists a number of studies related to its nasal strips, but they show contradictory results – for instance, an independent study showed Breathe Right nasal strips to be ineffective, while another (financed in part by the product's sole distributor) showed a reduction in the frequency of snoring in a group of patients with rhinitis.
The Pharmacure website has links to clinical trials of its Nozovent nasal strips which show positive results, but our ENT and sleep medicine experts thought the trials were unreliable.
The ENT specialist from the Australian Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (ASOHNS
) thought these devices could help a small number of people whose snoring is caused by certain types of nasal obstruction.
Aromatherapy Clinic's Anti Snoring Blend is a mixture of essential oils that can be dabbed on the skin, inhaled directly or diffused in an oil burner. The literature for this product claims that it "…clears sinuses and enhances the function of the respiratory tract".
The Essential Health website says the Helps Stop Snoring throat spray "works by lubricating and toning these tissues thereby reducing the vibrations that can cause snoring".
We found two clinical trials — one (financed by the manufacturer of Helps Stop Snoring) found it effective in reducing snoring, while another independent trial of an unnamed essential oils product with the same ingredients showed no significant difference between the product and a placebo.
The ENT specialist thought the methodology of both trials was unreliable. A representative from the International Federation of Aromatherapists
said although both these blends may clear congestion, she couldn't see how essential oils could improve poor muscle tone at the back of the throat.
The professor of sleep medicine agreed with the aromatherapist and said there was no evidence to support this theory.
Green Pharmaceuticals' SnoreStop Extinguisher comes in the form of a homeopathic throat spray or tablets, and has a clinical trial to support its claims (again, financed by its manufacturer).
Brauer supplied a list of ingredients of its Snore Eze spray and their properties, which were all listed in the Materia Medica — the reference book of homeopathic medicines — as some of the many possible snoring treatments.
Our ENT specialist thought the clinical trial of SnoreStop was poorly designed, and that one trial wasn't enough to establish if it really worked. He said the best way to determine a treatment's efficacy was via a meta-analysis — an overview of a number of studies that compares and draws conclusions from all the results.
A representative from the Australian Homeopathic Association said a homeopath would usually only prescribe the single most appropriate treatment for an individual, rather than take a generalised 'one-fits-all' approach.
Kids who snore
For kids, snoring and nighttime breathing difficulties may be linked to learning difficulties, aggressive behaviour and hyperactivity.
- If your child snores and has behavioural or learning problems, take them to a sleep specialist.
- If a weight problem is causing the snoring, change their diet and aim for more exercise.
- Surgical removal of the adenoids and tonsils (adenotonsillectomy) may be recommended for children whose snoring is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
- If snoring is severe or accompanied by pauses, gasps or snorts, have your child tested for sleep apnoea.
Over-the-counter treatments should not be used on children, as their effectiveness and safety for children haven't been confirmed and some products may interfere with a child's development.
Tips for a silent night
If there's no convincing evidence that any products currently on the market are effective at reducing snoring, what can you do?
Experts say lifestyle changes are the best solution.
- If you snore because you're overweight, get some support to help you stick to a sensible eating and exercise plan. Even moderate weight loss has been shown to reduce or stop snoring.
- Snoring is yet another good reason to quit smoking.
- Avoid sleeping pills, tranquillisers and muscle relaxants, and don't drink alcohol at least four hours before going to bed.
- If you only snore when sleeping on your back, train yourself to sleep on your side. (Wedging a pillow behind your back, or the old trick of sewing a tennis ball onto the back of your pyjama top, might work for you.)