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Can snoring be cured? It’s surprisingly difficult

May 21, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC
SnoreRX, a plastic mouthguard that bears a resemblance to the kind you might use for a hockey game. It works by pulling your jaw forward, keeping your tongue from falling backwards and blocking your airway.
Animation by Armin Harris; Photo: courtesy of SnoreRX

To hear James Fallon tell it, there’s one product that is improving relationships—and, ahem, intimacy—across America. It’s a snore guard, and if you don’t buy one, he thinks your significant other just might. 

Fallon is the founder of Apnea Sciences, the California-based creator of the SnoreRx, a plastic mouthguard that bears a resemblance to the kind you might use for a hockey game. It works by pulling your jaw forward, keeping your tongue from falling backward and blocking your airway. It will mean you’ll probably drool all night, but if you’re lucky—it doesn’t work for everyone—it will stop your snoring, winning back your spot in the bed. 

The SnoreRx is just one of a rising number of products designed to stifle snoring, the widespread but little-addressed nighttime rumbling that stymies proper sleep and torments romantic partners—and often falls between the cracks of critical medical care and the more aesthetics-conscious wellness industry. It’s not a niche issue: About 44% of men and 28% of women between 30 and 60 snore, according to Harvard Medical School.

Snoring is now so common, in fact, we forget it shouldn’t be happening at all.

“Sleeping is inherently dangerous [to animals],” says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a physician and sleep expert at the Stanford Sleep Center. “You shouldn’t be tipping off a predator by making noise.”

Because snoring is a symptom of obstructed breathing, rather than a condition itself, the causes range from low risk (a cold, a few too many beers), to high risk (obstructive sleep apnea).

That means silencing your snoring without medical consultation isn’t generally a good idea—Pelayo compares it to “disconnecting a fire alarm, and saying there’s no fire.” 

Snoring-relief products include (clockwise from top left): SnoreRx; Snooor wearable stickers; Snorestoppers nasal dilators; and Zeeq by Rem-Fit smart pillow.
Courtesy of SnoreRX; Snoor.; Snorestoppers.co.uk; Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images

But once you’ve established the cause, the options are nearly endless: from mouth guards to products to widen your nostrils and suction your tongue; to apps that track your snoring and high-tech stickers and pillows that “nudge” you to roll onto your side; to prescribed CPAP machines, which use face masks to help deliver a steady jet of air, keeping your airways open.

“There’s no silver bullet” for fixing snoring, says Nancy Markley, the president of Calgary-based MPowrx Health and Wellness Products, which makes a product called the Good Morning Snore Solution, which pulls the tongue forward so it doesn’t block the airway. “You have to have a big toolbox to see what product will work for what person.”

Apps and other technology that helped people track their own health have been part of the explosion in anti-snoring products, says Michiel Allessie, an Amsterdam-based dentist who specializes in sleep problems. He is the CEO of Side Sleep Technologies, which uses a vibrating sticker product called Snooor to remind snorers to switch onto their side, which frequently eases snoring.

Technology and other over-the-counter options allowed people to “start actually looking at their own problems” outside the doctor’s office, he pointed out—at a time when increasing obesity, which has been linked to the tendency to snore, means that the number of snorers is rising.

Snoring-related companies attracted $284 million worth of venture capital funding across the biotech and consumer field from 2015 to 2019, according to PitchBook. Snore tech is also just one part of the growing sleeping and sleep tech sector, which attracted more than $1.2 billion in VC funding over that same period.

Now, the question of how well someone can breathe has taken on added significance. 

Though it’s too early to say whether snoring, as a symptom of larger sleeping or respiratory problems, is linked to vulnerability to COVID-19, the similarities between CPAP machines and medical-grade ventilators have already gained attention.

Projects launched by both the University of Rhode Island and Berkeley have solicited donations of the machines to tweak to be used as ventilators. Meanwhile, major CPAP manufacturers like Netherlands-based Royal Philips, which already made medical ventilators, quickly pledged to increase their output.

That doesn’t mean you should attempt to jury-rig your CPAP machine at home, says Pelayo. Because the machines pump air both in and out of the system—unlike a ventilator, which is a closed system—using an unadapted CPAP machine as a ventilator would likely spread the virus further, he notes.

But for snorers and non-snorers alike, there are increased arguments for taking your ability to sleep seriously, he says.

“If we let our bodies sleep,” he says, “our immune system bounces back.”