Of the hundreds of over-the-counter snoring remedies, the only one that gets significant approval from sleep doctors is nasal strips, also known as external nasal dilators. These strips look rather like Band-Aids, but they're much stiffer. When you apply one over the bridge of your nose, it lifts up the nostrils and holds them open, giving you a clearer airway.
In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Nancy Collop of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says nasal strips can be helpful "for people whose snoring starts in their noses." However, Which? magazine, the UK version of ConsumerReports.org, says only 15 to 20 percent of snorers actually fall into this category. To see if you're one of them, the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (BSSAA) has a simple test: Look in a mirror, press one nostril closed, and try to breathe through the other one. If it collapses, prop it open with the clean end of a matchstick. If propping it helps you breathe easier, the association says nasal strips may help your snoring.
The brand of nasal strips most often recommended in our sources is Breathe Right Nasal Strips (Est. $11 for a box of 26). The BSSAA recommends them, and the Which? magazine study (no longer available on the magazine's website, but covered in a BBC News article) concluded that there was "some evidence" Breathe Right strips could help nasal snorers. Breathe Right strips are also the top-rated snoring remedy at both Amazon.com and Drugstore.com, earning ratings of 4.1 to 4.5 stars from more than 2,000 users.
Breathe Right strips come in several types and sizes. The tan "original" variety has a stronger adhesive than the clear variety for sensitive skin, while the "extra" variety (available in both tan and clear) has a springier band with more pulling power. Both the original and clear strips come in two sizes, small/medium and large, while the Breathe Right Extra strips are one-size-fits-all. Breathe Right also makes kid-sized strips and a version of the original strips scented with lavender.
Many Amazon.com and Drugstore.com reviewers say they use Breathe Right strips to aid breathing in general – during sleep or exercise, or when suffering from a cold – rather than specifically to stop snoring. For this purpose, most users say they do a great job. However, the strips also earn quite a few endorsements from both snorers and their spouses for their noise-stopping powers. Most users find the strips fairly comfortable to wear, but many say that they can be painful to remove. We found numerous complaints that the powerful adhesive took off skin, left behind residue, or caused irritation. Many reviews stress the importance of using hot water to remove the strips and washing your face well afterwards.
These complaints show up most often in reviews of the tan Breathe Right strips (both original and Extra). The clear strips are less likely to cause irritation, but they have a different problem: several users say they don't stick well, often falling off in the middle of the night. Users say it's important to clean your face well and apply the strips very carefully so they adhere properly. If you don't get it exactly right the first time, according to several owners, you'll never get the strip to stick; all you can do is remove it and try a new one.
Although many Breathe Right users say the strips soften snoring, most find they don't eliminate it completely. That's what happened to two intrepid journalists who tested Breathe Right, along with numerous other remedies for snoring. Rory Clements at the Daily Mail (UK) says the nasal strip "feels really good" and makes him look like a pro athlete, but his wife reports that he snored through the night anyway – though somewhat more gently than usual. Similarly, Chip Brantley of Slate.com enjoys the "raw rush of cold, dry air" when wearing Breathe Right, but his wife says his snoring continued unabated.
Another potential solution for nasal snoring is an internal nasal dilator. The BSSAA says these plugs, which fit inside your nose to open it up, can be helpful for snorers whose nostrils tend to collapse during sleep.
We found three brands of nasal dilators that get positive feedback on Amazon.com. Sleep More (Est. $12 per set of 4) gets 4.3 stars overall from nearly 300 users, Snoreworks (Est. $15 per set of 4) receives 4.5 stars overall from more than 280, and SnoreCare (Est. $16 per set of 4) has an impressive 4.7 stars overall from more than 900 users. Each of these products includes a travel case and a set of four reusable silicone plugs in different sizes, which can be trimmed to fit longer or shorter noses. The majority of users say these plugs are surprisingly effective against snoring, though some find them uncomfortable.
Professional reviewers, however, are less impressed with nasal dilators as a snoring treatment. Good Housekeeping (UK) gives the Breathing Relief Nasal Dilator (not available in the US) a score of only 36 points out of 100. It's effective against snoring, but most testers find it so uncomfortable that they can't sleep. And editors at Which? magazine say a similar device called Snore No More (discontinued) has "little or no direct evidence" to support its anti-snoring claims.
Journalist testers reports mixed results with nasal dilators. Clements says the brand he tried, called Nozovent (Est. $13 for set of 2) stops his snoring cold, but it's so irritating that he ends up removing it in the middle of the night. And when Brantley attempts to test a product called Snoreclipse (Est. $12), he finds it painful and "invasive". Moreover, his wife finds it so repulsive that she insists he take it out, saying "I'd rather you snore than sleep with that thing in your nose."
Breathe Right strips are only helpful for nasal snorers. If you snore for some other reason – say, a floppy flap of skin situated at the back of your throat –nasal strips won't help at all, experts caution. Your best bet for this type of snoring is an anti-snoring mouthpiece. These devices, which look similar to the mouth guards football and hockey players wear, typically work by pushing the lower jaw slightly forward, opening the airway. Some mouthpieces hold the tongue down instead, but this type is much less common.
You can buy anti-snoring mouthpieces over the counter for as little as $10, but sleep experts generally don't recommend them. The BSSAA recommends a couple of different models, but neither one is available in the United States. And in comparison tests, users who try the devices typically find them uncomfortable. The UK version of Good Housekeeping gives an over-the-counter mouth guard the lowest rating of all the storing remedies it tests, saying most of its testers "found them too uncomfortable to wear." Similarly, in the Which? magazine test, an over-the-counter mouthpiece works for one tester, but "he said it was so uncomfortable that he would be reluctant to use it again." And both Brantley and Clements struggle to wear the mouthpieces through the night, only to hear from their wives that they have been snoring as heavily as ever with them on.
A better solution, according to the experts, is a custom-fitted mouthpiece (Est. $1,500 to $3,000) from a dentist trained in sleep medicine. Dr. Sheri Katz of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine tells the New York Times that custom mouthpieces relieve snoring in 80 to 90 percent of snorers who use them faithfully. These devices can even help about 75 percent of patients with mild or moderate sleep apnea.
The biggest downside of a custom-fitted mouthpiece is the high price tag. In addition to the $1,500 to $3,000 for the mouthpiece itself and follow-up visits and adjustments, your doctor may recommend a sleep study first to discover whether your snoring is due to sleep apnea. This is likely to cost another $1,500 to $3,000, although insurance often covers the price. However, if it turns out you don't have sleep apnea and you still want to try a custom mouthpiece, you're likely to end up paying for it out of pocket.
While custom-fitted mouthpieces are more comfortable than the over-the-counter variety, patients can still have trouble with them. The Mayo Clinic says the devices can cause "excessive salivation, dry mouth, jaw pain and facial discomfort." The American Sleep Association (ASA) notes that patients who use these devices can develop temporal mandibular joint arthritis (TMJ), jaw pain, or shifting of the teeth. Some also have trouble closing their jaws normally shortly after removing the device. So even though a custom-fitted-mouthpiece is the most effective remedy for snoring, Dr. M. Safwan Badr, of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, still tells the Huffington Post that it's only worth considering "if you've exhausted other options."