Snoring and Buteyko Breathing

Snoring is not only disruptive and annoying for your loved ones and anyone in earshot, but it can also indicate poor breathing health and lead to serious health problems if it continues over time.

It generally results in poor quality sleep and is a precursor to, and prime indicator of sleep apnoea.

When sleep is not restorative, it results in daytime sleepiness, greater risk of accidents and reduced productivity. It heightens the risk of developing high blood pressure at a younger age than people who do not snore. 

Just about everyone snores at some time and the latest figures from Southern Cross (NZ: June 2020) indicate that approximately 50% of New Zealand adults snore occasionally and around 25% will be habitual snorers. Snoring is more common in men than women and whilst the severity of snoring tends to worsen with age, about 25% of children also snore!

What is Snoring?

Snoring is noisy breathing caused by the vibration of the soft tissues in the airway walls at the back of the throat, and air turbulence. 

Breathing volume should drop 25% when we sleep, however when breathing is in excess of what we need, in volume and in rate, the higher volume and speed creates greater force and resistance when inhaling. This causes the tongue to suction back against the throat, vibrating and causing the snoring noise.

Why does it occur?

It may be the result of any or a combination of the following risk factors:

  • weak musculature – muscle tone reduces as we age 
  • narrowed airway as a result of being overweight and breathing more heavily. Excess tissue in the neck can contribute to blockage of the upper airways. Fatty deposits around the abdomen can restrict diaphragmatic breathing resulting in faster, bigger volume upper-chest breathing.
  • narrowed airway at the back of the throat, as a result of dental problems including tooth extraction, malocclusion, overbite, high dental arch and a narrow jaw 
  • having a respiratory disorder such as asthma, allergic tendencies, sinusitis, allergic  rhinitis, recurrent colds, bronchitis, tonsillitis adenoid enlargement.
  • breathing poorly during the day – many of us are breathing more heavily or bigger volumes than is healthy and unfortunately this continues and worsens at night when volume should drop.
  • Poor sleeping position– Sleeping flat on your back is the worst  position for snoring in  particular because of gravity. 
  • Age –  snoring incidence is hghest in 50 to 60 year olds.
  • Alcohol and some medications–  Alcohol and some medicines (such as beta agonist asthma medications or sleeping pills for example) stimulate the breathing and this is what helps trigger loud snoring and increases the possibility of sleep apnoea* episodes. This is why we often hear people say they only snore when they have had a ‘few’ drinks, and, snorers are always worse after alcohol.
  • Smoking.


Why do some people who snore go on to develop sleep apnoea?

Studies have found snoring is harmful for your health and usually leads to apnoeas which ultimately result in sleep apnoea.

If volumes are high, airways become inflamed and dehydrate, which can cause them to reduce in size. This heightens the risk of obstruction, when the tongue sucks back against the throat causing an apnoea (stoppage of breathing). If the snorer is on their back, gravity will cause the tongue, uvula, tonsils, epiglottis and soft palate to fall backwards partially blocking the airway.

People with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) experience repeated episodes during sleep when their throat closes and they cannot suck air into their lungs (apnoea). This happens because the muscles that normally hold the throat open during wakefulness lose their tone during sleep and allow it to      narrow. When the throat is partially closed, add to this heavy or fast breathing, it will only be a    matter of time before the throat sucks completely closed, preventing any air from passing. This is an obstructive sleep apnoea episode.

*   Apnoea = temporary cessation or stoppage of breathing, usually in sleep


Why Does this Matter?

Most people are aware they snore however many people may not be aware they have obstructive sleep  apnoea (OSA) which so often accompanies or follows snoring. Sleep apnoea is responsible for thousands of people feeling constantly tired and lethargic, putting them at risk of accidents and other serious health problems including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cognitive decline and respiratory failure. In New Zealand, truck drivers can lose their license unless they get sleep apnoea under control as a result of the risks it poses to themselves and others.

2005 Yale University School of Medicine study found that people with sleep apnoea are three times more likely to have a stroke or die than people of similar health who do not have the breathing disorder.

In a 2008 Hungarian study, scientists conducted interviews with 12,643 patients. According to the results, loud snorers had 40% greater risk of having hypertension, 34% greater risk of having a heart attack and 67% greater risk of having a stroke, compared with people who do not snore, after statistical adjustment for sex, age, body mass index, diabetes, level of education, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

A 1999 study (www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10522651/) found that snoring may increase risk of hypertension in women, independent of age, body mass index, waist circumference, and other lifestyle factors.

The relationship between Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) and Alzheimer’s Disease is discussed in a 2018 US Journal of Medicine paper, (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6542637/ ), concluding that OSA increases the likelihood of developing, and potential earlier onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

An April 2015 article in Medical News Today (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292359) describes findings that link heavy snoring and sleep apnoea to earlier cognitive decline.

Another written in March 2016 in Medical News Today, (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/307751 ), suggests that sleep apnoea may drive tumor growth by promoting blood vessel formation.

What Can you do about this?

So often those diagnosed with sleep apnoea are told that the only way to stop having apnoeas is to use a device such as a CPAP machine (see photo below), mouthpiece such as the AVEOtsd (photo right) or wear an oral device.

What is less known is that if you learn to breathe correctly, you can restore your sleep to being healthy, restful and snore-free.

Breathing patterns are habitual, so much so, that we rarely think about our breathing until it is obviously dysfunctional. This is why it takes awareness and practice to alter breathing patterns. At the Breathe Free clinic we teach you how to do this, by first assessing your breathing, and then taking you through a course of education and practice to retrain your breathing habits.

The Buteyko Method of breathing retraining can help you to stop snoring and can reduce or prevent sleep apnoea from occurring without the need for any of the anti-snoring devices available today, or even surgery.

If you are a snorer, you can check out your sleep patterns and snoring levels for yourself at night by running one of the sleep apps now available, such as Snore Lab (android phone app) or Sleep Cycle (iPhone). The screen shot to the right shows the kind of data collected.


Many of our clients achieve significant improvement in their snoring and a reduction of sleep apnoea episodes within the first two weeks of the programme. Functional breathing restores normal sleep patterns.

If you would like to book a consultation, contact the Breathe Free Clinic at:

www.breathefreeclinic.co.nz  or by email: info@breathefreeclinic.co.nz