Troubled by Snoring? Here’s what Chinese Medicine thinks about it, both as to background theory and practical steps as to what to do!
February 23, 2020
Snoring can be bad for you.
And it can be devastating for your partner! Marriages have foundered on it.
Many people say it interferes with their sex lives.
The ancient Chinese must have snored because their doctors certainly gave it a lot of thought.
Here’s what they came up with.
Your ‘Spleen’ Energy
If you’ve just alighted on this page from a search engine, you’re going to have to grapple with a couple of ideas that may be new to you.
Chinese medicine approaches health and disease from a radically different viewpoint, so if you’re only interested in what Western or orthodox medicine has to say about snoring, off you go.
Lacking the last two hundred years of technical advances, investigation and theory, 3000 years ago the Chinese developed their own way. Not much of it came from cutting into bodies.
Pragmatic and flexible, their system of medicine has many ways of approaching disease. One of them involves the zang ‘energy organs’. One of these energy organs is your Spleen.
This Spleenzang (CAPITAL ‘S’) is not the same as the spleen organ (low-type ‘s’), which is behind your lower left ribs at the front of your body. When damaged or diseased this can sometimes be removed without loss of life.
Picky technical stuff: probably we should say the Spleen-Pancreas zang and not merely the Spleen. Possibly the Pancreas is more important, even in Chinese medicine. Don’t know! – but Greater Minds than mine may be shifting their allegiance towards it.
We do seem to be able to get along without our spleen organ, though not in full health. People get diabetes when their pancreas fails, and few would keep daily injections of insulin if they could get their pancreas working again. So we can’t get along without the pancreas, except by taking insulin.
We most certainly cannot do without our Spleen or Pancreas Zang/Energy organ.
Spleen as Housekeeper
If you clicked on the Spleen link above you’ll have read that the Spleen is like a housekeeper, in charge of keeping your body neat and functioning efficiently. If you’ve watched Downton Abbey (the TV serial) you’ll recognise what I mean.
Or think of Batman’s butler, Alfred. We don’t see much of him, but:
who fed Batman?
someone tidied up and clothed him!
who darned his socks?
someone bought the cabbages? I wonder who!
who cleaned and polished the Batmobile?
who put more fuel in it?
what about all the bills? Who do you think paid them?
who did the research?
what about washing the clothes and dishes?
who sorted the garbage?
who put out buckets to collect water dripping from the rock-ceiling above?
Your Spleen zang/Energy Organ helps absorb what you eat and takes the nourishment to where it’s needed. It patrols your body, removing old, dead and diseased tissue. It builds your muscles, mends the damage and clears the garbage.
It keeps things in place! That’s important as you grow older or weaker. Usually young people snore less, the reason being that their (healthy, young) Spleens don’t let tissues in nose, mouth and throat get lax.
It also has a significant contribution to your thinking, helping you concentrate, martial your thoughts, think things through and so on.
When a housekeeper is overwhelmed by events, what happens?
The big house grinds to a halt! Servants become unruly and messy, food supplies are disrupted, vital repairs don’t get done to the fabric of the building, and the owner (that’s YOU) can’t function. You get irritable and tired.
And junk piles up in corners.
That junk is called Phlegm and Damp in Chinese medicine.
Here’s another idea to grapple with. Chinese medicine is made up of syndromes of disease (another page to get your head round! Sorry.)
Damp is a major cause of health problems, so do please read the page linked. It causes heaviness, swelling and tiredness, and it affects some people more than others.
Phlegm is the other problem, more intractable than Damp. In Chinese medicine Damp and Phlegm were carefully distinguished and in fact whole books have been written about them! See above – probably the best book in the English language on the subject on bodily fluids from the Chinese medical perspective. (Warning! If you think Chinese medical theory is just a bit of YinYangery you may be in for a surprise. It’s quite a deep read.)
When either turns up, your acupuncturist begins to look a bit introspective. It means he or she has got a whole lot more to sort out than just the ‘simple’ problem you think you have.
Your Spleen is pretty hardy, but our modern diet and lifestyle can ruin it. Your Spleen wasn’t made to cope with all the wonderful food additives we use. Nor, for a million years or so of evolution, did it often encounter sugar and sweeteners. Disaster!
And also, in the past, most of us had to work physically to live We didn’t sit at a desk for hours working only our brains, eyes and hands.
We walked far more;
we lifted, stretched, bent;
someone had to fetch water;
we chased and were chased;
sometimes we ran for our lives;
when it was dark, we slept;
we wrung clothes out;
we dug the earth;
in summer and autumn we hand-harvested its fruits;
we frequently got out of breath.
What your Spleen doesn’t like!
It was hard, tiring work. Your Spleen loved it. We were fit.
Your Spleen doesn’t enjoy over-eating; huge meals eaten just before sleep; a constant supply of rich, spicy, salty, sweet food; lack of exercise; alcohol that heats and intoxicates us.
When your Spleen can’t cope you get tired, and in time you get signs of Damp and Phlegm.
These are Yin-excess substances that block the free flow of Qi and Blood round your body. Like piles of rubbish on streets, they impede the traffic.
And when you lie down to sleep, if you have Phlegm or Damp in your breathing passages, and your Spleen can’t quite keep everything in place, you open your mouth and snore.
Some people don’t open their mouths, but still snore, because of the junk in their noses or because of lax tissues in the back of their mouths and throats: again, often from weak Spleen Qi.
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Notice that only one of them specifically mentions the Spleen! That’s because it’s taken as read that the Spleen energy will need treatment.
Also, to start with I’ve listed only four syndromes. These are the worst, but many snorers don’t have them, or have only the first one in such an early stage of development that they would probably dispute it. They just have a weak Spleen causing lax tissues in the throat, and some Phlegm. That’s enough to make many people snore.
There are many devices and systems you can buy to help you to stop snoring – some of them are probably promoted by advertisers on this page! – but before you spend your money at least consider what you can do about it yourself.
First, try to establish the cause of your snoring. Chinese medicine, as perhaps you’ve read above, suggests that snoring arises mainly when your Spleen energy can’t cope.
However, there are other possibilities, including respiratory, hence the importance of the Lung energy in the syndromes listed above.
With both Spleen and Lung involved, several further syndromes enter the picture:
Kidney deficiency: this arises as your body’s store of endurance and youth declines, either from excess demands on them through acute or chronic illness, overwork, pregnancy, menopause, prolonged Qi Stagnation, overlifting, or ageing. (That’s not a complete list, by any means.) Weak Kidney Qi fails to support and supply the ability to ‘mend’ the tired-out Spleen and anchor errant Yang energy.
So, what to do? Most of the following are not quick fixes, though some do work fast, but they are suggestions for the long-term.
If your Spleen is weak, you should:
do something about what and how you eat or drink. Start by reading Nutrition. However, that’s not the end of it. There may be a food, foods, or a combination of foods with or without drink, that makes you snore. These foods may not produce a strong reaction when you eat or drink them but they could still contribute to your snoring.
[For instance, I know from experience that within a few minutes of eating some foods, my nose will feel a little blocked. These foods aren’t poisonous! I don’t have an allergic reaction to them. But my nose still feels obstructed after eating them.
If I go to bed just after eating them I may snore, my wife tells me. I’m lucky in that I’ve worked out which those foods are, for me, though it took years for me to make the connection. So your self-examination may not be easy, but it could be very worthwhile, enhance your relationships, improve your sleep, your energy and even give you some sex-life rather than an ex-wife. Or ex-husband. Worth consideration, wouldn’t you say?]
Medications and Snoring
medications are included in what you eat or drink. Do you need them all? Sometimes a better diet and more exercise mean you don’t need them! Or could they be taken at different times of day – perhaps earlier? Is it possible that a particular combination of them causes you to snore? By the way, coffee is for many a form of medication. Try avoiding it for a week and see if that makes a difference. For some people, too much tea has the same effect.
Over-eating and Snoring
over-eating or over-drinking during the evening before sleep can hugely worsen your snoring. This is something you can control. Be very suspicious of snacking! Salty, sweet, spicy, fatty snacks disrupt and weaken your Spleen.
[Over-eating can lead to obesity when the wrong foods are over-eaten. Obesity is known to incline people to snore. So, of course, if you are overweight you should try to reduce your weight. However, this is easier said than done, but you could readthis.]
Eat for Balance
consider whether the foods you eat are Yang or Yin in nature. You need a balance, but too much Yang food is heating and dries fluids in your nose and throat, making you open your mouth to breathe, and inclining you to snore. Equally, too much Yin food produces too many fluids through which you gurgle as you breathe – see also under Phlegm and Damp. (What are Yang foods and Yin foods, you ask? Check Nutrition from time to time because from it there will be links to pages on these categories that I’m gradually writing. But briefly, meat and roasted food is Yang: most natural liquids, especially water, and vegetables, are Yin. For some, not enough water allows the throat to dry making you open your mouth and snore. For others drinking too much water soaks you in Yin fluids which are difficult to breathe through. Balance, in everything!)
Exercise, Rest and Snoring
start taking more exercise, within your capability. This should be enough to get yourself out of breath for at least 10 minutes daily. Eventually longer. Do it in open, fresh, clean air if you can.
rest more from intensive intellectual work. This might be work or it might not. Sitting at a computer or on your tablet or phone or even watching TV, could all amount to what the Chinese meant by over-thinking.
see an acupuncturist who can help your digestion and Spleen syndromes recover faster – but YOU have to look after how and what you eat. If you don’t, acupuncture will be less helpful.
If your Lung Qi is weak:
rest more and talk less
overworking, or working for too long without rest and exercise, weakens Qi so don’t overwork!
seek out an acupuncturist: weakness in Lung Qi often responds very quickly to good acupuncture in my experience
if you smoke, almost by definition your Lung Qi will be weak, because you have come to rely on the Yang action of the tobacco to stimulate your Lungs to ‘descend energy’ and so relax you. (Energy tends to rise when you are tense: for example your shoulders rise and tighten, you grind your teeth, you furrow your forehead, you go red in the face, your tighten your fist, etc. Deep, relaxing breathing helps to ‘descend’ this, and smoking is a way of taking deep breaths and so relaxing without looking peculiar!) So learning to stop smoking may ultimately help with snoring too because your Lung Qi becomes more self-reliant and stronger.
Voice-play and Snoring
as your Lung Qi improves learn to sing: join a choir. The voice and breath control you learn will gradually strengthen not just your lungs but your throat and the various tissues that, being lax, flap around when you breathe during sleep, causing snoring. Also, you may enjoy the music, the people and the experience.
If you don’t want to sing, try learning a musical wind instrument. It should be one that requires you to learn breath control. It will strengthen your lungs and your breathing, your throat and larynx muscles, reducing the tendency to snore.
as your Lung Qi improves, learn Yoga breathing exercises. These include the bellows breath, alternate nostril breathing and so on. They take practice and, I think, some of them are best done in a meditative state of mind.
Exercise and Snoring
as your Lung Qi improves, start climbing hills and stairs. Get out of breath! Your lungs will love it, and deep breathing from exercise benefits you in many other ways: not least, your skin will improve. Also see above under suggestions for the Spleen.
Nose play and Snoring
if your nose does block easily, consider clearing it by sniffing up mildly salty water in the evenings before bed. The water’s saltiness should be that of your tears, so very mild. (Get help if the following doesn’t make sense! There’s no need to drown! First put a towel round your neck to catch stray drops. Put the warm salty water (blood warmth level) in a shallow saucer or ramikin dish. Lean forward, over a sink: shut your mouth and holding one nostril closed incline the other into the water and gently sniff it up. Then lean back and let it trickle backwards through your nose to your throat. Then spit it out. It does take a little practice and you may swallow some, or cough and splutter a bit. Keep doing this until the air flow improves. Then repeat for the other nostril. This doesn’t improve Lung Qi much but it may ease the air passages which are ‘ruled’ by the Lungs in Chinese medicine.
breathing warm, steamy air may help open your air passages, such as during a hot shower before bed
the air you breathe should also not be too dry, and certainly should be fresh. Air-conditioning purports to give you clean, fresh-feeling air, but I distrust it, though will admit that in hot climates it is a boon. If you live in a hot climate, or indeed in any climate, consider how to keep the air you breathe neither too dry (Yang) nor too humid (Yin-Damp). In some climates a humidifier may be necessary, in others a means to absorb moisture from the air. Usually, fresh, clean air is available via open windows, but of course, it may bring noise and insects. For easy breathing, air should be neither too Yang nor too Yin.
Sleep position and Snoring
change the pillows you sleep on. Lying with your neck in the wrong position can mean that as you relax, your breathing passages become blocked or impeded. Sometimes all you need is a different pillow or less pillows. For instance, try pillows shaped to your neck and head, and/or with memory foam.
some people snore only or mainly in certain positions such as on the back. If so, try to avoid that position. For example, if you snore when on your back, wear a belt holding a small cushion in your back to that it wakes you when you try to lie on it. Another solution is to sew a small pocket into your pyjama bottom at the back, to contain a tennis ball which again alerts you when you lie on it. Some snorers find that they can quickly adjust to this and stop lying on their backs.
Is your Liver Qi interfering?
Liver Qi stagnation can eventually cause many other syndromes including Spleen and Lung syndromes.
(Ahem! Read my book – below – to understand how it works and how to use the stagnant energy to your advantage. End of Ahem.)
stress, emotional frustration and many other situations can lead to Liver Qi stagnation, leading to snoring
Kidney deficiency and snoring
Up above I made a short list of factors that contribute to Kidney deficiency. Ageing is one of them. What can you do about ageing?
Well, believe me, practitioners of Chinese medicine have been giving this serious thought for 3000 years.
What have they come up with? Tai Qi (also written as Tai Chi).
So learn Tai Qi!
(Or practise Yoga.)
What to do while you wait for the above to work?
Well, don’t rush out, promising yourself you’ll faithfully follow all the above suggestions when at the same time spend good money on some device that promises instant results! At least, not before you’ve tried the above much cheaper and longer-lasting DIY options.
Do please try the above suggestions for a month or so first!
Only then, as you’re learning to sing, and your partner is still sleeping in another room, consider one of the devices advertised.