Snoring can be a problem regardless of age, but loud snoring and obstructive sleep apnea become more statistically likely as we age. The journal Sleep and Breathing stated that senior men are likeliest to snore.
Snoring grows louder and more problematic as we age due to reduced muscle tone. As the muscles in the mouth and throat grow more relaxed, vibrations occur when we breathe in and out.
The muscles can fold inward during sleep if they are too weak and relaxed. This restricts airflow, which may lead to gasping for breath associated with snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Gaining weight can cause snoring, and it’s harder to burn calories as we age and become less active. If physical activity causes back pain and you lay on your back, this can cause loud snoring.
Menopausal women are almost as likely to snore as older men due to hormonal changes. A reduction in estrogen loosens muscle tone. Also, the side effects of medications can cause snoring.
Snoring at any age can be managed by adjusting your lifestyle, losing weight, sleeping on the side, and improving airflow through the nose and throat.
Surgery may be considered in certain circumstances, but sleeping with a prescription Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is preferable.
Is Snoring Age Related?
Anybody can snore, regardless of age. Snoring and sleep apnea incidents are recorded in young children, though there’s frequently a medical or physical explanation in these cases.
Regular, increasingly loud snoring is more commonly associated with older people.
Does snoring increase with age, as seems to be the case? Is it normal to start snoring as you get older, and thus, we should all accept that we will become noisier sleepers?
Age affects snoring, and you’re likelier to experience snoring or sleep apnea as you age.
Why is My Snoring Getting Worse as I Get Older?
The human body doesn’t have a direct cut-off point where it loses the ability to enjoy a silent night, so don’t assume that reaching a certain age means you’ll immediately start snoring.
Reduced Muscle Tone
The most common explanation for loud snoring is relaxed muscles in the back of the throat and the roof of the mouth. This causes vibrations as we inhale and exhale during sleep.
As we age, muscle tone is reduced all over. This can also lead to weight gain, as fat replaces muscle and is harder to burn off, especially if you naturally begin slowing down with age.
The neck is a common area where older people gain weight, as decreased collagen production reduces support and elasticity. You’re increasingly likely to snore if your neck measurement exceeds 16″.
Extra weight around the stomach will also promote snoring, as belly fat forces the diaphragm higher in the body and compresses the ribcage, restricting airflow from the lungs.
This can leave you gasping for breath, leading to snoring and sleep apnea.
Growing older can often lead to aches and pains in the muscles and bones. The cartilage between our joints and vertebrae begins to fade with age, leading to inflammation and pressure.
Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders deem lower back pain a common and debilitating concern for older adults aged 60+. Immobility can lead to more time in bed, and many people adopt the supine position – lying flat on the back – to distribute weight and manage pressure points.
As per the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, this overnight posture can lead to chronic snoring.
Back sleeping means your airways are likelier to relax and collapse, causing soft tissue vibrations, while your tongue may fall to the back of your mouth and block airflow.
Another element of growing older is an increasing list of prescription medications.
Many medications have side effects, some related to snoring. If a prescription promotes relaxation of the throat muscles or leads to weight gain, increasingly loud snoring or sleep apnea can follow.
Sleep Medicine Clinics also explains how older people can be prone to insomnia. This may lead to a prescription for sleeping pills or relaxants like Xanax.
Unfortunately, benzodiazepines relax every muscle, including those in your throat. This means that while you may fall asleep faster, you’ll likely snore with increasing volume and intensity.
Older people experience hormonal adjustments, especially pregnant and post-menopausal women.
Following menopause, estrogen levels in the female body drop sharply. This leads to a further softening of muscle tone within the body, including in the throat.
Consequently, older women frequently snore when they didn’t do so previously.
The hormonal changes the female body undergoes during pregnancy, especially estrogen and progesterone, also lead to loud snoring.
Fluid accumulates in the nasal passages, causing a blockage and restricting nasal breathing.
One of the advantages of growing older is that we can indulge ourselves a little more. You may have amassed an impressive wine collection or started smoking fine cigars before bed.
Smoking inflames and irritates the throat lining, while alcohol will have a similar effect to muscle relaxants, potentially relaxing the neck muscles and leading to more prominent vibrations.
Can Older People Manage Snoring?
Don’t assume that, just because you’re no longer in your 20s or 30s, you have no choice but to snore loudly. Snoring can ruin a partner’s rest, leading to being awoken many times.
The easiest way to manage your snoring is to make simple lifestyle changes.
Avoiding alcohol in the evening, watching your diet, and exercising regularly can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risks of snoring.
If you’ve taken to sleeping on your back, whether by accident or design, you can train yourself to sleep on your side to keep the airways open. Sleeping without a pillow will worsen snoring.
The easiest way to achieve this is to place a full-body pillow behind your back while you sleep.
This will gently roll you back onto your side if you automatically move in your sleep. This will be preferable to waking a partner and forcing them to move you.
An alternative is sewing a tennis ball into your pajamas. This will fulfill the same purpose, discouraging you from taking up the supine position due to discomfort, but it’s likely to wake you.
If you sleep on your side, ensure you remain comfortable and pain-free in the morning.
You may need to consider placing soft cushions under your hips and between your knees to maintain an even distribution of weight throughout the rest of your body.
Nasal strips will be taped over the nose to keep the airways open, preventing polyps or nasal blockages from leading to snoring.
Nasal strips are only effective if blockages in the nose cause snoring. If snoring stems from issues in the throat, nasal strips won’t make any difference to the noise you make at night.
If vibrations in the throat cause snoring, consider getting a mouthguard or dental retainer. Dental insurance may cover a specialist prescription product.
Two types of mouthguards are available, each offering a different service:
- Tongue Stabilizing Devices (TSDs) will hold your tongue into place while you sleep. This prevents your tongue from sliding to the back of your throat and thus prevents restricted airflow.
- Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) will force the lower jaw slightly forward. While primarily intended to minimize bruxism (tooth-grinding,) a MAD will also keep the mouth and throat open, allowing greater airflow.
It may take trial and error to find the perfect TSD or MAD, so it’s worth paying for a consultation and specialist fitting molded to your unique mouth shape.
A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine is worn as a face mask or simply over the nose. A CPAP machine feeds the airways with a stream of light pressure, preventing them from closing during sleep.
Most people who use CPAP machines have obstructive sleep apnea, but this device can also reduce incidents of snoring and drastically lower the volume.
If your snoring is causing significant issues, you may consider surgery to correct the problem.
This should be regarded as a last resort, as the journal Sleep confirms that this can introduce negative side effects, including trouble swallowing and changes to the voice.
Consult a surgeon to learn the best practices if considering this approach. In some cases, a comparatively minor procedure, like removing enlarged tonsils, will reduce the volume of your snoring.
Your nose will also be checked if you report for surgical intervention into snoring.
This can be resolved if the cause is a deviated septum. This occurs when bones separate your nasal cavity and become crooked, potentially due to an impact injury.
A surgeon may consider a “pillar procedure” for severe snoring involving sleep apnea.
This involves weaving 3 implants into the soft palate in the roof of the mouth. This strengthens the palate and reduces vibrations, thus minimizing the likelihood of snoring.
Advancing age affects snoring, and it’s almost inevitable that you’ll struggle to sleep silently. However, you can reduce the noise and frequency through lifestyle changes and medical intervention.