As you get older, you may feel like you’re snoring more loudly or more often than you used to. Your partner might start complaining more about how much you snore, and you might notice yourself feeling more tired during the day. Does sleep-disordered breathing really get worse with age, or is it all in your head?
Will I snore more as I age?
Unfortunately, the percentage of the population that snores does increase with age. There have been many studies and surveys about the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing, and although the exact percentages they report vary, most state that the problem becomes more prevalent with age.
Only five to 10 percent of children are habitual snorers, but about 30 percent of people over the age of 30 snore frequently. This percentage rises to over 40 for middle-aged people.
Those who don’t snore when they’re young may start developing the problem as they age. Also, those who have a mild problem might see it become worse as they get older.
Why does this happen?
People usually snore because of structural problems in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages. While we sleep, the muscles in the throat relax. However, if they relax too much, the back of the mouth will collapse and partially obstruct the airway. This causes the soft palate and uvula to vibrate against the throat, which makes noise.
With age, we lose muscle tone, and it becomes more difficult to rebuild muscle. If the muscles in the throat weaken, they may relax excessively, leading to a louder snore.
Being overweight or obese is also a big risk factor, and many people gain weight as they age. Gaining weight around the neck and throat is especially common with age. For women, hormonal changes during menopause can lead to weight gain.
Lifestyle factors contribute to weight gain, too. Many people start working more sedentary jobs as they get older. It also can be difficult to find time to exercise because of family obligations or other responsibilities. Your weight may gradually increase over a number of years, and the increased pressure on your neck while sleeping can cause the throat to collapse and partially cover the airway.
Some medications also might make you snore. Muscle relaxers and drugs for allergies, depression, and anxiety have all been know to cause sleep-disordered breathing. Although people of any age could face this problem, most people start taking more medications as they age, so the likelihood of taking one that causes snoring increases.
Nasal congestion also sometimes worsens with age. Every day, we breathe in dust, pollen, and other allergens. Over time, this will damage the nasal passages and cause congestion or swelling. This makes breathing more difficult, especially during sleep.
Can I prevent it?
The best way to prevent snoring from worsening is to discover the cause. Fortunately, there are many solutions to sleep-disordered breathing, and the problem is often caused by something that’s easy to fix.
If you’re overweight or obese, there’s a good chance the excess weight is causing you to snore. Losing weight is the best way to reduce or eliminate the issue. Even losing just a little weight could make a big difference.
Your sleep-disordered breathing may simply be caused by your sleeping habits. Sleeping on your back makes it very easy for the back of the mouth to collapse onto the throat. Lying on your side is an easy solution to this problem. If you’re uncomfortable while lying on your side, try propping your head up with more pillows while you sleep on your back.
If you think you may snore because of a medication, it’s important to speak to your doctor before making any decisions. It may be in your best interest to continue taking the medication even if it does make you snore. You and your doctor can weight the pros and cons to decide what’s the best option.
You can also try vocal or singing exercises to strengthen your muscles and prevent loss of muscle tone as you age. According to Alise Ojay, vocal exercises strengthen the soft palate and other muscles in the mouth and throat. Her recommended exercises involve making an “ung-gah” sound while singing a scale, which engages the soft palate. Practicing vocal exercises like this for 20 minutes per day may prevent your sleep-disordered breathing from worsening.
If no other solutions work for you, you can try a variety of devices that prevent sleep-disordered breathing. Chin straps, which wrap around the top of your head and your chin, keep your mouth closed during sleep. If open-mouthed breathing is a problem for you, chin straps may reduce how much you snore.
Mandibular attachment devices, or MADs, are another common treatment. MADs are mouthpieces worn during sleep that move the lower jaw forward, holding open the airway. This also strengthens the airway, which reduces the chances of it collapsing. Tongue-retaining devices work in a similar way, holding the tongue forward and preventing it from collapsing over the airway.