The Soft Palate and Snoring
- The soft palate is a muscular extension of the bony roof of the mouth (hard palate). It separates the back of the mouth (oropharynx) from the nasal passages (nasopharynx).
- The soft palate is vital when breathing and swallowing.
- The soft palate is composed of muscle and connective tissue, which give it both support and mobility. This palate is very flexible. It elevates for swallowing and sucking where it completely blocks and separates the nasal cavity and nasal portion of the pharynx from the mouth and the oral part of the pharynx. While elevated, the soft palate creates a vacuum in the oral cavity, which keeps food out of the respiratory tract.
- During nasal breathing, the palate moves forward and “opens” the nasal airway for air to pass into the lungs.
- The uvula is the small extension at the back of the soft palate. It assists with the function of the soft palate. The palate and attached uvula are the structures that vibrate during.
Narrowed Airways and Snoring
The tonsils fight infections. They are located at the back of the mouth on each side of the throat (oropharynx). Like other infection-fighting tissue, the tonsils swell while they are fighting bacteria and viruses. Tonsils can narrow the airway and also can vibrate causing snoring.
The soft palate if it is too long or floppy, it can vibrate and cause snoring. The uvula is suspended from the center and back of the soft palate. An abnormally long or thick uvula also can contribute to snoring. A long uvula can also be a clue that a patient has obstructive sleep apnea. The negative pressure that builds when the airway collapses can pull the uvula down.
The tongue is a large muscle that is important for directing food while chewing and swallowing. The base of the tongue is the part of the tongue that is the farthest back in the mouth. It also is important for shaping words while we speak. The tongue must be free to move in all directions to function properly. Thus, it is not attached very tightly at the tip or top of the tongue. If the back of the tongue is large and can fall backwards during sleep. When this happens, the airway gets narrow and vibrations and snoring occur.
Snoring, OSA and your Health
Stages of Sleep and Snoring
Sleep consists of several stages, but in general they can be divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM stages. Snoring can occur during all or only some stages of sleep. However, snoring is most common in REM sleep (because of the loss of muscle tone characteristic of this stage of sleep) and during deep sleep (non-REM Stage 3 sleep).
During REM sleep, the brain signals to all the muscles of the body (except the breathing muscles) to relax. Sleep is a time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Regrettably, the tongue, palate, and throat also loose muscle tone and collapse when they relax. This causes the airway to narrow and worsen snoring.
Sleeping Position and Snoring
When we are asleep gravity pulls on all the tissues of the body. The soft tissue of the throat and pharynx are relatively soft and floppy. Thus, when we lie on our backs, gravity pulls the palate, tongue and tonsils backwards. This often constricts the airway enough to cause turbulence in airflow, tissue vibration, and snoring. Frequently, if the snorer is gently reminded (thrust of the elbow to the ribs or a tickle by a bed partner) to roll onto his or her side, the tissues is no longer pulled backwards and the snoring lessens.
How Does Alcohol and Medications Affect Snoring?
The cause of snoring is vibration of the tissues while breathing. Some medications as well as alcohol can lead to heightened relaxation of muscles during sleep. As the muscles of the palate, tongue, neck, and pharynx relax more, the airway collapses more. This leads to a smaller airway and greater tissue vibration. Have you witnessed a friend or bed partner that snores after a night of drinking? Some medications encourage a deeper level of sleep, which also can worsen snoring.
Why is Snoring a Problem?
Snoring can be harmless and just annoying to your bed partner. Although, snoring sometimes can be the only sign of a more serious problem. People who snore should be tested to be certain that other problems such as sleep apnea or other sleep related breathing problems are not present. Dr. Nugent can set this up easily and order a Home Sleep Test.
If the snorer sleeps and breathes normally, then snoring is only a problem for the snorer’s bed partner or family members. The most requested feature of new house construction is two separate master bedrooms so couples don’t have to deal with the effects of snoring. Benign snoring often disrupts the sleep of family members and partners more than it affects the snorer. Usually, partners of snorers report leaving the bedroom (or making the snorer leave the bedroom) many nights per week. Snoring may not be a medical problem, but it can become a significant social problem for the snorer and sleep problem for the bed partner.
Dr. Nugent can help eliminate snoring by making a custom dental appliance. This snore guard pulls the lower jaw forward opening up the airway. Because the airway is opened up, there is not a turbulence of air creating the snoring sound.
We can help you eliminate snoring and restore harmony in the bedroom. Call our office today at 832-487-0647 or come visit us at 3421 Burke Rd #1, Pasadena, Texas 77504.