No, you're not imagining things. Your partner's snoring probably has gotten worse over the years. You've tried everything from ear plugs to sleeping in different beds but nothing seems to drown out the inexplicably loud throaty sounds coming from your partner at night.
"It can start at any age," Pelayo says, noting that it does occur more often as we age. "But it's not normal at any age. When we're awake we don't snore. All snoring is abnormal and is caused by some degree of obstruction in your breathing."
Specifically, snoring is caused by the narrowing of the throat when you sleep, because the reflexes that keep the throat open relax while you get your shuteye. Contrary to popular belief, snoring is not a breathing disorder, but rather a throat issue. The loud sounds you hear are actually just turbulence cause by the same amount of air you always breathe, being forced through a narrower space.
But why does it get worse as we get older?
"As we get older, we put on weight. The pattern of weight gain changes and we often gain weight around the neck, so the throat space becomes narrower," Pelayo says. "Muscle tone also decreases, that's why we snore more." For women in particular, after menopause, hormonal changes -- including decreased progesterone -- may also cause weight gain.
The treatment options
There are numerous over-the-counter options available for treating snoring. All they simply do is make it easier to breathe. There are nasal strips, sprays, nasal humidifiers, snoring pillows, positional devices and even tongue exercises you can do to reduce snoring. Losing weight can also help if you are overweight. Pelayo says that all these methods will work to some degree, unless you have sleep apnea.
That's why you should never ignore snoring. Snoring is no joking matter he says, with patients often coming in for treatment simply to appease their annoyed spouse. "Think of fire and a fire alarm. The snoring is the alarm," Pelayo says. "If there's a fire and the fire alarm goes off and I disconnect the alarm, it doesn't mean I put out the fire. The fire could still be burning."
Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, which is also more common in older adults. While simple snoring is a narrowing of the throat, sleep apnea is more of a closure, Pelayo explains. Snoring can be thought of as a cosmetic issue, while sleep apnea is a real medical problem.
So how do you know the difference?
Look for other signs of sleep apnea if you snore or even if you don't. "Everybody who snores should consider if they have sleep apnea ... if they aren't waking up refreshed, they're feeling tired, their memory is not as sharp, they're getting up often to pee in the night and their blood pressure is hard to manage," Pelayo says. If you have any of these symptoms, you should bring them up with your doctor.
But anyone with snoring should consider being tested for sleep apnea. Sleep tests have become much more advanced and routine and are often covered by insurance nowadays. Some testing can even be done at home with portable sleep tests, taking out the hassle of going to a sleep clinic.
And you don't have to worry about an unsexy CPAP machine turning your partner off, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea. New machines are smaller and sleeker and there are also options for minor surgeries and oral implants. Plus, since all sleep apnea treatments will get rid of snoring, you won't be scaring your partner out of the room any longer!