If you, or a loved one, is a chronic snorer, you should do something about it. Serious snoring can signal sleep apnea, a very dangerous condition. A new study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests there may be a simple solution and it’s as easy as standing up.
The researchers recruited 16 snorers for their research. All of them were healthy, normal weight people. After measuring the fluid volume in the volunteers’ calves, the researchers asked them to sit for four hours—and then tracked their snoring that night.
Why the interest in leg fluid? As the researchers point out in the study: “Prolonged sitting may promote leg fluid retention that redistributes to the neck during sleep and contributes to snoring.” The researchers also wanted to test a potential solution: Half of the volunteers pressed their feet against pedals to keep their calf muscles active while sitting; the other half let their legs hang limply the way we all do at work and on the couch.
A week later, the researchers reversed the groups—the inactive volunteers pressed pedals, the pedal-pressers sat idly—before tracking nightly snoring again.
Sure enough, the volume of lower-leg fluids actually tripled when volunteers sat quietly, and they snored up a storm that night. But when volunteers worked the pedals—keeping the blood pumping and fluids moving in their calves—they had less fluid buildup, and their snoring dropped by more than half when they hit the sack.
“If there is excess fluid in the neck it will make your windpipe or esophagus more narrow,” says sleep doctor Michael Breus, MD. When you lay down after a long day of sitting, excess fluid in the legs can flood up to the neck, compressing your windpipe. “This forces the air to move faster and this can cause a vibration and then a snore. It is an airway thickness issue,” explains Dr. Breus.
Around 12 to 15 percent of American men have sleep apnea, and roughly 45 percent of people snore, according to Dr. Breus. Luckily, as the study suggests, there’s an easy fix. “My suggestion is to make sure that people take advantage of walking and moving whenever possible,” says Dr. Breus. “Getting up every two hours for a five-minute walk, parking your car far away to walk to work and cycle or walk to work.”
He also likes the idea of under-the-desk fitness equipment.
You can get a stair-stepper, peddler or elliptical that can keep your calf muscles busy throughout the day. Just remember that this is one small study, and leg exercise may not be everyone’s snoring solution; if you’re a heavy snorer, get checked out by a sleep specialist. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with getting more exercise.
Updated July 19th 2017
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