Almost half of all adults snore (just ask their spouses). Loud and persistent snoring may be a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious sleep condition that requires medical attention. But is it true that most snoring problems can be fixed just by sleeping on your side?
First, a quick snoring primer. Snoring is the result of an obstruction of the breathing pathways during sleep. As you drift off to sleep, your mouth, tongue and throat relax. The soft tissue in your throat can relax to the point that it partially blocks your airway. As air passes through this restricted space, it causes the tissue to vibrate, producing the telltale rumble. The narrower your airway is, the more forceful the flow of air will be, which increases the vibration of the tissue and makes your snoring sound even louder.
The root causes of snoring vary from person to person. Obesity is a common underlying reason for snoring, since excess weight on the neck and chest compresses breathing pathways. Other causes include allergies (they cause congestion and inflammation that tighten airways in the nose and throat) and drinking alcohol before sleep (this relaxes throat muscles). And some people are just born with an extra-thick soft palate or a low-hanging uvula that obstructs airflow to the throat.
So where does sleep position come into all of this? Sleep experts agree that sleeping on your back exacerbates snoring. That's because when you're asleep, your tongue, soft palate and throat muscles automatically relax. And if you're sleeping on your back, those relaxed muscles will sag downward and back, increasing the odds of an obstructed airway.
Sleeping on your side is most effective on true "tongue snorers," where the chief cause of the obstruction is a relaxed tongue blocking your airway. But turning on your side won't necessarily solve the snoring problem if it's an allergy or obesity issue.
The trouble with side sleeping is that unconscious people are terrible at following directions. If your bed partner has a hard time maintaining a side sleeping position, use pillows to prop them up or place a tennis ball under their shirt in the middle of their back to remind them to turn over. You can even buy devices like the Rest-Rite Sleep Positioner, a plastic dome that sticks to your back to encourage side sleeping.