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Anti snore pillows: Do they work?

Anti snore pillows seem ideal: an easy and comfy way to return peace and quiet to your bedroom…

But:

Do they really stop you snoring? And if so, which is best?

If you’re thinking of buying an anti snore pillow, then read this independent (no advertisements or affiliate links!) sleep-industry expert review.

I examine:

  • How anti snore pillows claim to work
  • What the clinical evidence tells us about their claims
  • What the experts say

Anti snore pillows have mixed online reviews (here’s an authentic and less than favourable one in the Huffington Post ↗) so I thought it was time to take a good look at them.

I’m a sleep-industry insider with a quarter of century of sleep medicine experience.

Adrian Zacher MBA

Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Care Navigator

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If you are seeking professional and unbiased help with a snoring problem then Adrian Zacher is the 'go to' person.

Jeff November 5, 2018

CAUTION: Snoring may be a symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea / Apnea (OSA)

Without first being screened for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) your purchase of an anti-snore pillow could be delaying your diagnosis and effective treatment (should your snoring be a symptom of OSA.)

A treatment that will prolong your healthy life!

Get signposted to the most appropriate professional (it’s free!)

The professional will screen you for OSA and decide if you’re ‘just’ a snorer or if your snoring needs investigating.

Your GP may be able to help you. Or if you live the UK, you can also find sleep-trained dentists who can screen you and recognise Obstructive Sleep Apnoea/Apnea (OSA) symptoms. These dentists can also provide you with a custom-made anti-snoring device.

Anti snore pillows: How they claim to work

Various anti snore pillows are available, yet they all share some design similarities. They’re either ‘door-wedge’ shaped or curved with the hollow being where you place your head.

They claim to work by:

sleep on your side Encouraging you to sleep on your side
better breathing by supporting your head and neck Encouraging better breathing by supporting your head and neck
better body alignment Encouraging better body alignment (whatever that is)

So we have three claims to review:

Anti Snore Pillows: What I'm not including in this review

There’s another type of anti snore pillow that I’m not including in this review.

They’re the expensive (circa 300 USD) ‘high tech nudge’ pillows that don’t treat your snoring – they merely disturb your sleep in some way when a snore is detected. They wake you up enough to regain muscle tone in your throat.

Some manufacturers claim that after a while you will get used to this pillow movement and regain tone in your throat without waking up.

The jury is out on this.

No. 1. The Anti Snore Pillow makes you sleep on your side

Why? Why is sleeping on your side an aim? And how does that help stop snoring?

Think First Aid.

Are you familiar with the ‘Recovery Position’? Perhaps you should be!

This is when the unconscious individual is moved by a first-aider off their back into a semi-prone position known as the ‘Recovery Position’ to help them breathe.

We’ll come back to how this relates to snoring and anti snore pillows, later in this post (it’s called positional therapy).

The Recovery Position (YouTube video) by the St John’s Ambulance.

No.2. The Anti Snore Pillow supports your neck

According to the NHS ↗, the most common cause of neck pain is when your neck has become locked in an awkward position while sleeping.

But what’s neck pain got to do with snoring?

Allow me to explain:

If your pillow inadequately supports your neck while you sleep, and your head is on your shoulder. Then the airway in your twisted neck may become restricted.

And you guessed it:

You snore.

Anti snore pillow neck ache
So, there is merit in supporting your neck while you sleep:
  • From both a neck pain perspective
  • And if your current pillow could be improved upon, it seems reasonable it could improve your breathing while you sleep

But unless your pillow is truly terrible and you routinely wake-up with neck pain from a strange sleeping position;

I would not expect it to stop you snoring.

But what do the experts say?

What do the experts say about anti snore pillows?

Clinical experts research products or theories to establish if it does or doesn’t work. You can think of it as proof or as close as possible to ‘fact’.

There is good evidence that positional therapy i.e. training the individual NOT to sleep on their back (No. 1 in this review) can help stop snoring1.

What do the experts say about anti snore pillows?

No. 3. The Anti Snore Pillow encourages 'Better Body Alignment' to Stop Snoring

Encouraging better ‘body alignment’ (as in sleeping with your head and body straight and your neck not bent) would on the face of it seem reasonable.

Perhaps if you were to sleep with your neck at an acute angle (as I mentioned in my review of claim No. 2) then yes the airway in your throat would be restricted and it could make you snore.

However, marketing a pillow with a supposed anti snore feature being improved ‘body alignment’, is I think reaching a little.

Anti snore pillows are they the most effective positional therapy device?
The Real Question

So if positional therapy has some validity as a way to stop snoring, the real question is:

Are anti snore pillows the most effective positional therapy device?

And to answer that I will:

  • Look a little closer at positional therapy
  • Provide a rough cost/benefit analysis
  • Review what the experts advise

Unless your pillow is truly terrible, I would not expect a new one to stop you snoring.

Adrian Zacher MBA

Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Care Navigator

Positional therapy for snoring and sleep apnoea

Turn over you're snoring!

Positional therapy for snoring is ‘as old as the hills‘. Think tennis ball in the breast pocket of a t-shirt worn back to front.

Position dependent snoring1 is the technical name for when snoring either stops or lessens in different (not on your back) sleep positions.

Fortunately things have moved on some from tennis balls and anti snore pillows.

I’m not going to review the various high tech ways to or my experience of them here.

Suffice to say positional therapy may be useful IN ADDITION to:

  • A prescription, custom-made anti-snoring device
  • Positive Airway Pressure therapy

To get either of these you’ll need to know what you’re trying to ‘fix’. As in not self-diagnose yourself.

Keep reading:

Sleeping prone or on your front with an anti snore pillow

My personal experience of an anti snore pillow

When I rolled over and tried to sleep prone (on my front) my wife reported that the part of the pillow designed to support my neck when I slept on my side, pushed against my throat.

It appeared to be collapsing my airway!

She said I was making some very strange noises…

However, I continue to use an orthopaedic neck support pillow (remarkably similar shape!) and wouldn’t used anything else. I’ve learnt not to sleep quite so flat on my face!

Are they worth the money?

Anti Snore Pillows: Cost/Benefit Analysis

Are anti snore pillows worth the money?

From a financial perspective its hard to beat the tennis ball in the pocket of the t-shirt.

With anti snore pillows on the market from 5 GBP they may be worth a punt.

However, you need to be aware of these limitations:

  • The tennis ball or anti snore pillow might not be enough to stop the snorer sleeping on their back (they just ignore it)
  • You have no evidence of effect throughout the night (other than the lack of a partner’s elbow in the ribs!)

Anti Snore Pillow: Costs

Anti snore pillow prices online and in the shops range from as little as 5 GBP to 25 GBP.

As a first-line and relatively harmless way to stop snoring they probably make financial sense.

However (and it’s a big HOWEVER) if they don’t stop the snoring problem then you need to seek the advice of a professional.

Pretty much everything is going to cost more than a tennis ball or a stop snoring pillow, but if you’re serious about no longer snoring, then consult a professional. There are considerable drawbacks to self-diagnosis.

  • If you have mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and you’re using an oral appliance then some data to show you turned over and your sleep has improved might be worthwhile.
  • If you’re on an auto-titrating PAP then getting off your back may reduce pressure and make PAP more tolerable.

Are you trying to ‘cure the snore‘ before you know what’s wrong?

Trying to ‘cure the snore’ before you know why you snore – is like driving a car before you’ve passed your test.

Wrong

You might think you can drive – but you could be on the wrong side of the road!

Treatment (the ‘cure’ for the snore) follows diagnosis i.e. find out if your snoring is more than just anti-social before trying to ‘cure’ it – for this you need signposting.

What about anti-snoring devices?

If anti snore pillows aren’t helping then you might wonder what else is available. Enter anti snoring devices.

Anti-snoring devices are commonly oral appliances you wear in your mouth at night.

They work by holding your lower jaw in a more forward position. This keeps your tongue away from the back of your throat so you don’t snore.

What’s the best anti-snoring device?

Example of an anti-snoring device
Example of an anti-snoring device. Image courtesy of SomnoMed and used with permission.

What about surgery?

A long way from an anti snore pillow…

Surgery for snoring is divided into whether hard and soft tissue is involved.

Soft tissue surgery is intended to improve the effect of an anti-snoring device or PAP therapy (more about what PAP is in a moment).

Whereas hard tissue surgery (that changes the way you look) is intended to eliminate the need for any other treatment.

Learn more:

Radio-frequency ablation for snoring
Image representing a soft tissue operation: radio-frequency palatal surgery.
Image representing a hard tissue operation: bi-maxillary osteotomy (both jaws operated on).

What about CPAP?

There are pillows especially designed for PAP users. Keep reading:

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy. Today, it is referred to as just PAP.

PAP works by providing low pressure air (through a mask worn over your nose and sometimes both your nose and mouth) to the airway in your throat. This pneumatically holds open your airway.

While an arduous therapy, it is highly effective if snoring is actually a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Learn more:

Example of a full face PAP mask

Do’s

Don’ts

  • Don’t self-diagnose yourself as ‘just’ snoring
  • Don’t buy over-the-counter stop snoring gadgets
  • Don’t ignore drowsiness or sleepiness during your normal awake time (consult your GP)
  • Signposting to the right professional

    When self-help and pillows aren’t helping it’s time to get serious.

    Signposting is when you’re directed to the most appropriate expert to help you stop snoring.

    The expert professional (your GP, additionally if you’re in the UK a sleep-trained dentist2) will screen you for sleep apnoea and decide if you need further investigation i.e. a sleep study.

    If you don’t need a sleep study a custom-made anti-snoring device (available from the sleep-trained dentist) is the first way to stop snoring and treat mild to moderate OSA3.

    Signposting to the right professional to stop snoring

    Summary

    My final verdict is that anti snore pillows are a relatively low-cost way to try to stop snoring. But don’t get your hopes up.

    You need to be comfortable to sleep well, so find a pillow that helps you sleep comfortably on your side and supports your neck. Consider orthopaedic pillows in addition to the big headline grabbing brands.

    When snoring is a problem consult a professional. If you’re in the UK you can get signposted to the right type.

    Otherwise consult your primary care physician. They have your medical history and want you to be well (they’re not trying to sell you something!)

    A final note about high tech anti snore ‘nudge pillows’:

    I’d like to see the impact this type of anti snore pillow has on the individual’s sleep quality.

    They appear to me to be fragmenting sleep and preventing deep restorative sleep from occurring. I consider the onus upon the pillow manufacturers to substantiate their marketing claim.

    And I come back to the fact that this is a ‘treatment’ before knowing why you snore: there has been no prior assessment or screening for sleep apnoea.

    Reviews

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    If you are looking for impartial advice about snoring from an expert in the field, the highly respected Adrian Zacher should be your go to. We applaud Adrian’s work, to raise awareness about the health implications of snoring, and the importance of custom-made devices for long-term success.

    Lucie Ash Director Somnowell How to choose the best anti-snoring device September 7, 2018

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    Glossary

    Anti-Snoring Device – generally considered a product worn in your mouth to stop you snoring.

    Custom-made – a bespoke device made specifically for you by a registered dental technician, working to prescription, using CE marked materials. In Europe working to the Medical Devices Directive  administered in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA)

    OSA Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – (also spelt apnea) When an individual is unable to sleep and breathe at the same time. Visually, a repetitive pattern of breathing interruptions (apnoeas) occurring while the individual sleeps, due to a physical obstruction in the airway.

    OTC – Over-the-Counter product sold over the pharmacy counter or on-line without prescription, medical or dental assessment and without a review of medical/dental history.

    Signposting – Is the medical term for directing people to the most appropriate professional to help them based upon their answers to some high-level questions.

    Sleep-trained Dentist – A dentist that has undergone special interest training in sleep. As such they are able to obtain professional indemnity insurance.

    References

    1. Benoist LB, Morong S, van Maanen JP, et al. Evaluation of position dependency in non-apneic snorers. Eur Arch Otohinolaryngol. 2013;271(1):189–94. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00405-013-2570-5  new window
    2. Stradling, J. and Dookun, R. 2009, Snoring and the role of the GDP: British Society of Dental Sleep Medicine (BSDSM) pre-treatment screening protocol, British Dental Journal, 206, 307 – 312. Available here: http://www.nature.com/bdj/journal/v206/n6/abs/sj.bdj.2009.214.html new window [accessed 12 April 2017]
    3. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has approved oral appliance therapy (OAT) as a first line treatment for patients diagnosed with mild to moderate OSA. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/sleep-apnea-treatment-options/ new window

    Created by Adrian Zacher | Page last updated 17th May 2019