Snoring can disrupt your bed partner and might put you at risk for sleep apnea.(GETTY IMAGES)Don't take your (or your partner's) buzz saw lightly: Heavy snoring disrupts sleep and can even signal a more serious health condition. You may be tempted to try an over-the-counter snoring aid—but before you do, there are several factors to consider.

Rule out sleep apnea first
By treating yourself without consulting a doctor, you may be overlooking a dangerous health condition. If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea—in which a person's airway becomes obstructed while they sleep, causing them to snore, stop breathing, and gasp for air while sleeping—you may need a prescription medical device or surgery to fix the problem.

Don't expect a miracle
From nasal strips and sprays to acupressure finger rings, there are more than 300 patents for snoring aids in existence. Products that target specific causes of snoring, such as nasal congestion or sleeping on your back, may help if you can target the reason for your own case, says David Rapoport, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University.

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"It's really about individual preference," says Dr. Rapoport. "What works for one person may not work for the next. But overall don't expect huge results: Very little research has been conducted on these products."

One 2003 study tested a lubricating mouth spray (Snorenz), nasal dilator strips (Breathe Right), and an ergonomically shaped pillow (Snore-No-More), all marketed to stop snoring. Over several nights, 37 men and women slept with each of the three products, while researchers from Wilford Hall United States Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio took measurements on snoring parameters.

None of the participants had significant improvement from the previous night, without snoring aids. The study casts doubt on unregulated over-the-counter products, although manufacturers argue that they may take more than one night to become effective.

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Sleeping on your side can decrease snoring and mild sleep apnea episodes.

Sleeping on your side can decrease snoring and mild sleep apnea episodes.(MASTERFILE/HEALTH)Use props and pillows to stay on your side
"About a quarter of our sleep apnea patients have either less or no snoring when they're on their sides," says Jed Black, MD, director of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic. To keep from rolling back over, some snorers wear soft backpacks to bed or stuff a tennis ball into a sock and sew it to the back of their sleep shirt.

Jim Latza, 55, tried sleeping with a foam mini-football in his pajamas to quell his snoring, but at close to 300 pounds, he barely noticed the lump. Now the food service salesman from Lakewood, Ohio, uses a regulation NFL ball to keep him off his back every night.

Specially marketed anti-snore pillows generally aren't worth the money, says Dr. Black; you may be better off just sleeping up against a big wedge of foam. People tend to change positions every 15 to 30 minutes during sleep, so you may end up pushing the prop out of the way, but if it keeps you off your back, stick with it.

One product that stands out in a sea of untested "medical" devices is the Sona Pillow, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of snoring and mild sleep apnea. In 2004 one study showed that patients had significantly fewer apnea episodes per hour using the pillow—which is shaped so that you can sleep on either side and fit your lower arm comfortably underneath; your head tilts down so that your tongue stays forward in your mouth.

Try simple lifestyle changes
Avoid alcohol, antihistamines, and tranquilizing drugs—which depress your central nervous system and loosen your throat muscles—for at least three hours before bedtime. Run a humidifier to keep your throat moist. And if you're overweight, losing a few pounds might help open your airways. These and other lifestyle changes are often more effective than anything you'll find in the drugstore, says Dr. Rapoport.