updated 1/9/2007 4:00:54 PM ET 2007-01-09T21:00:54

Snoring has a simple definition: During sleep, the muscles of the tongue and throat relax, narrowing the airway, and the vibration of air through this constricted passage creates hoarse or harsh sounds.

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Much more complicated is the effect snoring has on relationships, and how to cure it.

Snoring is a “big relationship divider,” said Dr. Laura Berman, a relationship and sex therapist in Chicago. She said snoring creates frustration and resentment on both sides: the snorers, who can’t help it, and those suffering next to them.

Complications include “low energy from not getting enough revitalizing sleep, making you grumpy, less communicative and with less sexual energy,” she said.

Beyond a regular nudge in the ribs to make the snorer roll over and stop snoring, potential remedies can include anything from earplugs for the sleep-deprived to surgery for the snorer.

Nearly half of adults snore occasionally, and a quarter are habitual snorers, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, whose physician members specialize in ear, nose and throat care. Snoring increases with age and weight, and happens most often when the guilty party is asleep on his or her back.

The biology behind those sleep sounds — and strategies for silencing themPat and David Auerbach of Swarthmore, Penn., have been married more than 20 years, about half of them sleeping in separate bedrooms. She moved down the hall after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, caused both by his loud snoring and by her job as an airline ticketing agent, which required her to get up at dawn.

Although they have made peace with separate bedrooms at home, “it makes it very difficult to go on vacation,” Pat said.

For many couples, time spent chatting in bed is the best chance to talk with each other all day, and can be crucial to the relationship, according to University of Minnesota social science professor Paul Rosenblatt, author of “Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing” (State University of New York, 2006).

“Keep in the same bedroom at all costs, and if not, take time to cuddle and interact before going to separate bedrooms,” advised Berman. “That should be seen as a temporary situation, and couples should have a clear plan for getting back together.”

Such a plan can include many options, including surgery. Not everybody is a candidate for it, however, said Dr. Lois Krahn, a psychiatrist and sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Surgery can fix snoring caused by a deviated septum, a crooked partition between the nostrils, and widen the throat passage by trimming away loose skin. Sometimes, removing the tonsils is enough to quiet a noisy sleeper.

More than 300 devices are patented as snoring cures, although few are recommended by physicians.

Krahn favors a device similar to a dental night guard, with clips that help “stretch the muscles of the neck” to prevent tissue from vibrating. Another option is the Controlled Positive Airway Pressure device, better known as a “C-Pap,” which delivers air through a specially designed mask; the airflow creates enough pressure to keep the airway open and reduce loud vibrations. The mask is not exactly romantic, but then neither is losing sleep over a partner’s snoring.

Sometimes, the length and volume of snoring can be reduced by some straightforward behavior modification, such as “no alcohol before bedtime and lose weight,” said Krahn.

Diabetes and high blood pressure also contribute to snoring.

Serious snorers should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist, an accredited sleep clinic or both.

Heavy snoring also can lead to sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition in which throat tissues obstruct the airway enough to prevent proper breathing. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring followed by periods of silence that can last 10 seconds or more, a cycle of oxygen deprivation followed by an increase in carbon dioxide that will wake you up. Left untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

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