A recent relationship informed me that I have a recurring snore factor when sleeping. What? Since when? I mean, I know my family is notorious for knocking down walls with percussive midnight log sawing, but moi? No way! Occasionally I remember waking myself up from a stuffy nose induced snore, but not something consistent or regular. This disbelief became denial until the late night elbowing got to be too much to resist turning into an MMA bout. Aw, snap!
I noticed then that I was clenching and grinding my jaw again. This was something done in years past from what I thought was stress, but as of late that excuse just wouldn’t fly. I have very little stress in my life these days. So what could be the cause of the tight neck, jaw clenching, and snoring?
The answer: head position pre- and post-pillow. As a park ranger I spend the day looking down at the ground scanning the grass, dirt, ivy, and wooded territories for any number of suspicious artifacts worth detaining or disposing or leading to law enforcement. In addition, when I conduct yoga classes or do massage work, I look down. I began to notice that very rarely do I look up or straightforward.
Anatomically speaking, my eyes, nose, chin, throat, and neck are all tilted forward in flexion. This is a repetitive activation of the sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, hyoids, and longus colli. All these muscles are also the same ones that seize up the cervical spine in whiplash. If you have ever had whiplash, you know how unpleasant it is. It also reduces the natural “C” curvature of the cervical spine, overstretching the upper trapezius and spinal muscles.
Hours each day tug on the neck flexors and induce a similar sleeping pattern on my pillow, where I had kept my chin tucked into my chest while laying on my side. My overly relaxed tongue would hang in the back of my throat and create the narrowing of the esophagus and produce epic volumes of snoring.
So what’s the remedy? Lying on my side with head in extension and ears lined up with shoulders. This widens the throat and separates the lower mandible away from the skull, putting space between the teeth and allowing room for the tongue to remain in the front of the mouth.
- Neti pot nasal cleanse before going to sleep to clear sinuses.
- Ujjayi breathing to strengthen inner epiglottis, larynx, trachea, and esophagus.
- Develop a routine for stretching and massaging your throat in the warm shower. Rub oil starting from the chin down to sternum, with your head tilting back, in order to thoroughly stretch the cervical spine flexors and provide a day’s worth of relief from a sore neck.
I put all this into effect myself, and – success! As an added benefit, my neck muscles are less tense and my teeth don’t touch while sleeping. Additionally, during the day I monitor and limit my forward flexing head and instead rely on my eye muscles more to scan the ground.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.