Chronic snoring can be more than a noisy nuisance. Up to three-quarters of nightly snorers also have sleep apnea, which causes breathing interruptions throughout the night. Sleep apnea raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Snorers looking for a cure are often told to sleep on their sides, not on their backs, so that the base of the tongue will not collapse into the back of the throat, narrowing the airway and obstructing breathing. But for some snorers, changing sleep position may not make much of a difference.
Scientists say there are two types of snorers: those who snore only when they sleep on their backs, and those who do it regardless of their position. After sleep researchers in Israel examined more than 2,000 sleep apnea patients, for example, they found that 54 percent were “positional,” meaning they snored only when asleep on their backs. The rest were “nonpositional.”
Other studies have shown that weight plays a major role. In one large study, published in 1997, patients who snored or had breathing abnormalities only while sleeping on their backs were typically thinner, while their nonpositional counterparts usually were heavier. The latter group, wrote the authors, consequently suffered worse sleep and more daytime fatigue.
But that study also found that patients who were overweight saw reductions in the severity of their apnea when they lost weight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, in people who are overweight, slimming down is generally the best way to cure sleep apnea and end snoring for good.