ALTHOUGH sometimes trivialised, snoring has been shown to be a significant cause of disharmony in relationships, and often cited as one of major reasons partners decide to sleep in separate bedrooms.

It is caused by the turbulent flow of air through the nasal passages and mouth. Broadly speaking this includes the nostrils, tongue, soft and hard palate. The vibration of air over these structures results in the noises associated with snoring.

Sleep is disturbed at volumes above 40 decibels (db). Snoring can be anywhere between 50-100 db. An estimated 40% of the UK are regular snorers. While it most commonly affects us between the ages of 40-60, children can suffer too; often acutely after a cold, or chronically due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids.

The result is sleep deprivation, which long term has been linked with both physical and mental ill health. It is a risk factor for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Anxiety and depression are made worse by lack of proper rest.

If the snorer has pauses in the night, where they stop breathing, this may be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), which should not be ignored.

The good news is that many cases of snoring respond very well to lifestyle changes. Being overweight and having a neck circumference larger than 17 inches is associated with the soft tissues of the airways struggling to stay open, especially if laid on your back.

Sometimes weight loss improves symptoms drastically. Similarly alcohol and sedative medications reduce the tone of your airways, so not drinking excessively in the evenings will be of benefit. Smoking irritates the lining of the nose and mouth; stopping often improves snoring symptoms.

Lying on your side makes your airways more likely to stay open. This may be difficult to master at first if it isn’t your natural position. Some advocate sewing a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas so that when you roll on to your back, the sensation causes you to switch positions.

If the above fail, treatment depends on where the problem lies. If your nostrils collapse when you breathe in, a device called a nasal dilator can be inserted into the nose at night to keep these passages open. A floppy tongue which causes problems by falling backwards when asleep may benefit from a mandibular advancement device, which brings the lower jaw and tongue forward. For mouth breathers, devices exist which aim to keep the mouth closed and encourage breathing through the nose.

Various surgical techniques exist. These aim to either reduce the volume of tissue that is potentially obstructing smooth airflow, or to make the soft and hard palates more rigid and less likely to vibrate as much.

As with the devices mentioned, there is limited evidence for some of these procedures, with significant pain after the operation. If snoring is an issue for you or your partner, and lifestyle measures don’t work, an appointment with your GP would be a good first step.