Do anti-snoring devices actually work? Maybe, experts say

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Some anti-snoring devices aim to expand the nasal pathway or upper airway, while others help make you comfortable in the optimal sleeping positions for snoring reduction.Amazon

Any way you look at it, snoring is disruptive. It can lead to a restless slumber for snorers and anyone who shares a bedroom with them, which causes many people to seek out ways to reduce snoring and products to help them do so. Luckily, there are lots of options available, like wedge pillows, mouthpieces and nasal strips. But are they effective? Maybe, experts told us. There are no guarantees that anti-snoring devices will work for you, but they’re worth a try, so long as you consult your doctor beforehand.

We talked to doctors about what snoring is, who is prone to it and what you can do to reduce how much you snore. Experts also shared different types of over-the-counter anti-snoring devices to consider, whether you’re using them yourself or buying them for the snorer in your life.

SKIP AHEAD What is snoring? | Anti-snoring devices that address sleep position | Anti-snoring devices that address the nasal pathway | Anti-snoring devices that address the upper airway | Products to help if your bed partner snores

Simply put, snoring is the vibration of the soft tissues in the upper airway, says Dr. Andrew Varga, a neuroscientist and physician at the Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center. When you go to sleep, your muscles relax since you’re laying down instead of sitting upright. This change in body position causes gravity to narrow your airways, says Dr. Noah Siegel, the director of sleep medicine and sleep surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear at Harvard Medical School. As air then moves through the nose and down the throat when you inhale, it generates vibration of the soft tissues in your upper airway. That vibration is the sound that we associate with snoring, says Dr. Paul Chung, a physician and an instructor of neurology and sleep medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Anything that further narrows the nasal pathway or the upper airway worsens snoring or makes you more likely to snore, says Chung. For example, your nasal pathway tends to narrow when you’re congested, and factors like obesity, older age, alcohol consumption and tobacco use can cause the upper airway to narrow, he says.

Snoring can be a sign of a bigger issue like sleep apnea, but there are also many cases where it’s not necessarily worrisome, says Sigel. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about snoring, especially if you notice it having a negative impact on your sleep quality.

We talked to experts about different types of over-the-counter anti-snoring devices you may want to consider trying and how each one works. We rounded up a handful of products that align with their guidance and fall into three main categories: devices that address sleep position, devices that address the nasal pathway and devices that address the upper airway.

Remember that there’s one caveat when it comes to all anti-snoring devices — they might work. There are no guarantees, and everyone’s body responds differently to each product. Experts recommend approaching snoring aids with an open mind and accepting that it will likely take a lot of trial-and-error to find something that works for you. Also remember to always talk to your doctor before trying an anti-snoring device to make sure it fits your needs.

Adjusting your sleeping position is one of the fastest, easiest ways to potentially reduce snoring, experts told us. They unanimously agree that snorers should prioritize side sleeping and avoid back sleeping, which tends to make you snore more. That’s because when you’re supine, gravity pulls the soft tissues around your airway downward and toward the back of your throat, making the area narrower, says Chung. Sleeping on your side helps keep the airway as open as possible.

To make side sleeping more comfortable, you can use pillows that are specifically designed to help keep your spine straight and support your head, neck and shoulders while resting on your right or left. But despite their best efforts, some people can’t get comfortable while sleeping on their side. If you’re exclusively a back sleeper, a wedge pillow can help. It elevates your head so you’re not laying completely flat, thus reducing how much the soft tissues around your airway are being pulled downward, says Varga. Some brands also make devices that go inside your pillowcase and inflate to elevate your head when their sensors detect snoring sounds in real time, says Varga.

Finally, if you’re looking for a DIY solution to train yourself to sleep on your side, Varga recommends filling a long sock with tennis balls and sewing it to the back of an old shirt. If you start rolling over onto your back while sleeping, the balls will make it uncomfortable, likely causing you to wake up and readjust yourself on your side.

Here are a few pillows and pillow accessories for snorers that align with our experts’ guidance. We chose a few highly rated picks, plus products recommended by NBC Select staff.

Pillow Cube Side Cube

The Pillow Cube is a rectangular pillow specifically designed for side sleepers, and it won a NBC Select Bed & Bath Award. You place the bottom of the pillow against your shoulder, and when you lay your head on it, the pillow fills the gap between your head and your mattress. This helps keep your spine straight and aligned throughout the night, according to the brand. The pillow is made from firm foam to support your head’s weight, has a breathable cover and comes with a removable, machine-washable pillowcase. It measures 24 inches long, 12 inches wide and five inches high.

Coop Home Goods The Original Body Adjustable Pillow

Body pillows are a great option for snorers looking to make side sleeping more comfortable. You can drape your body over the long pillow and hug your arms around it, which can help you stay on your side overnight instead of rolling over onto your back, experts told us. This body pillow comes recommended by Harry Rabinowitz, NBC Select reporter, and it’s adjustable — you can remove its memory foam and microfiber filling to find a loft that matches your preferences. The body pillow’s outer cover is removable and machine-washable, and it measures 54 inches long and 20 inches wide.

DMI Bed Wedge Pillow

Experts recommend looking for wedge pillows that are between 10 and 12 inches high, which elevate your head at about a 30 to 45 degree angle while you’re laying on your back. This one — which has a 4.1-star average rating from 16,633 reviews on Amazon — fits the bill at 12 inches high. Its foam core is dual-sided: one side is flat and offers a firm level of support, while the other side has an egg-crate texture, offering increased airflow to help keep you cool, according to the brand. The pillow’s microfiber, machine-washable cover is treated with a coating that repels liquids, protecting it from spills and moisture. It’s 24 inches long and 24 inches wide.

Smart Nora

If you love your current pillow but want the benefit of elevating your head to reduce snoring, Smart Nora may be a solution for you. It has a 4.2-star average rating from 115 reviews on Amazon and comes with three parts: an inflatable pillow insert, an air pump base and a microphone sensor. You place the insert inside your pillowcase, which is connected to the air pump base. The microphone sensor that sits on your side table listens for snoring sounds, and when they’re detected, it tells the air pump to inflate the pillow insert to elevate your head. Then, when it no longer detects snoring sounds, the base deflates the insert to lower your head. You can adjust how sensitive the microphone is to snoring sounds, as well as how much the pillow insert moves throughout the night. The Smart Nora is FSA- and HSA-eligible.

If you have allergies, sinus issues or congestion, try to treat that first, says Chung. Your doctor may be able to prescribe nasal spray or recommend an over-the-counter medication. There are also a few products that can help open the nasal pathway, which we listed below.

Nasal strips are flexible stickers that you apply right above the flare of your nostrils. They work to lift the sides of the nose up, which gently pulls your nostrils open and expands the size of the nasal pathway, experts told us. This gives air more space to flow through as you breathe.

Breathe Right Nasal Strips Extra Strength

I always keep a pack of these nasal strips at home because I have seasonal allergies. I wear them when I’m congested to reduce the chances that I start snoring and immediately feel how much they open my nose when I apply them. The nasal strips come in a pack of 26 and their adhesive has never irritated my sensitive skin. I find that they usually stay in place overnight, but Chung says the one downfall of any nasal strips is that they can unstick while you’re sleeping, especially if you don’t let skin care products dry before applying them. These nasal strips are tan, but you can also purchase clear ones.

Nasal dilators work similarly to nasal strips, but they hold the nostrils open from the inside of the nose instead of the outside. Whether you use nasal strips or nasal dilators is ultimately a personal preference — if you’ve never used either product before, experts say it may be a good idea to try both and see what works for you.

Mute by Rhinomed Nasal Dilator Starter Pack

Nasal dilators come in different sizes, so if you’re new to using them, it’s beneficial to buy a pack with small, medium and large options. You can try on each size, find which one is most comfortable and buy just that size the next time you place an order. These nasal dilators are made from a transparent, flexible, medical-grade material. They have a hook whose sides sit inside the nose, while the base rests outside the nose and on top of the nostrils. There are loops on either size of the hook, and you can adjust the size of the loops (narrower or wider) to further customize their fit. You can reuse each nasal dilator up to 10 times, according to the brand.

There are two types of dental devices that can help reduce snoring, both of which work to widen and expand the upper airway.

Mandibular advancement devices (MADs), also commonly called snoring mouthguards, gently pull your lower jaw forward, giving you somewhat of an underbite, says Varga. Since your tongue is attached to your lower jaw, the device helps move the tongue muscle forward toward the front of your face. “This creates more room in the back of the upper airway and puts a little bit of tension on some of the soft tissue, making it less prone to vibrating and therefore less able to make that snoring sound,” says Varga.

Over-the-counter snoring mouthguards have a customizable boil-and-bite design, meaning you put them in boiling water to make them malleable and bite down on them to make an impression of your teeth. The reusable device is then custom-fit to your mouth, so long as you follow the directions properly. Over-the-counter snoring mouthguards don’t tend to work as well as snoring mouthguards dentists can make for you, says Varga. But they’re a more affordable option you can try at home before committing to a pricier model. Over-the-counter snoring mouthguards typically max out around $100, while those that dentists make tend to cost over $1,000 if your insurance doesn’t cover it, says Chung.

SnoreRx Snoring Mouthguard

Chung says some of his patients have success with this snoring mouthguard. It has a boil-and-bite design and is adjustable — you can choose how much the mouthguard pulls your lower jaw forward by moving the built-in hinge. It’s reusable and typically lasts for about six to 11 months before you’ll need a new one, according to the brand, which recommends cleaning the mouthguard after every use with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Tongue retaining devices (TRDs) gently pull the tongue forward and prevent it from falling into the back of the mouth while you’re sleeping. You insert your tongue into the device and it holds onto the front part of the tongue throughout the night. Tongue retaining devices have a similar effect to snoring mouthguards, experts told us, so you can try both to see which one is most effective and comfortable for you.

Good Morning Snore Solution Mouthpiece

Good Morning Snore’s tongue retaining device is one of the most readily available options across retailers. It’s designed to fit most users, according to the brand, which recommends cleaning the reusable device by soaking it in cold water with a denture cleaning tablet for about 10 minutes and air drying. The mouthpiece has a 4.6-star average rating from 1,659 reviews on its site. It may take a few nights before you’re able to keep it in your mouth all night and adjust to wearing it while sleeping, according to the brand.

While snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, they’re two very different things.

“Think of it as a spectrum,” says Siegel. “There’s normal quiet breathing, heavy breathing, light snoring, heavy snoring and then sleep apnea.” If you snore, it doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea — in fact, you can have sleep apnea if you don’t snore at all. With that being said, it’s important to understand the difference between snoring and sleep apnea to have informed conversations with your doctor if you have concerns.

Sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing during sleep for variable amounts of time, which happens because the airway partially or completely closes, says Varga. It’s commonly treated with a CPAP machine, which uses air pressure to keep the airways open while you’re sleeping.

So how do you know if you have sleep apnea? That’s the tricky part, says Chung. Ultimately, doctors can’t definitively diagnose you with sleep apnea unless they do a sleep study. But there are some signs to look out for that can tell you if you should see a doctor. And if you share a bed with someone, you’re at somewhat of an advantage — you can ask them if they notice you stop breathing for a few seconds or make choking sounds while sleeping. If they say yes, Chung recommends consulting your doctor.

If you don’t share a bed with someone, Chung suggests asking yourself two questions:

If your partner’s snoring is preventing you from getting a restful sleep, these products can help you block out the noise.

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at NBC Select who covers sleep, including stories on slippers, sleep masks and sunrise alarm clocks. For this article, she interviewed three experts about anti-snoring devices and rounded up products that align with their guidance.