Is Snoring Genetic?


Snoring occurs when restricted airflow through your breathing passages causes the tissues of your nose and throat to vibrate. Approximately 57% of adult men and 40% of women (1) snore. A few studies have suggested that snoring may be linked to one’s genetic background (2). Although further research is needed to understand the relationship between snoring and genetics, certain inherited traits have been shown to increase the risk of snoring.

Is Snoring Genetic?

Some snoring risk factors have potential genetic roots. These include:

  • Weight: Overweight people are more likely to snore because they carry more tissue in their necks, which can impede airflow. Although many factors can contribute to weight gain, more than 50 genes associated with obesity (3) have been identified.
  • Alcohol Intake: Consuming alcohol or other sedatives before bed increases the likelihood of snoring because these substances reduce muscle tone (4) around the tongue and throat. This can cause breathing passages to become more relaxed during sleep, restricting airflow in the process. Numerous studies have established a link (5) between genetics and traits related to alcoholism and alcohol metabolism.
  • Head and Neck Structures: People may be more likely to snore if their anatomy limits or hinders airflow. Head and neck characteristics that can lead to snoring include enlarged tonsils, a large soft palate (roof of the mouth), a deviated nasal septum (asymmetrical wall between the nostrils), or a narrow throat.  These characteristics can run in families (6), but they can also occur independently.

Other risk factors for snoring are not related to our genetic makeup. For example, men are more likely to snore (7) than women due to differences in upper airway anatomy. Additionally, tissue swelling near the end of the third trimester of pregnancy can restrict airflow in the throat and cause snoring. The tendency to snore also increases with age, making the elderly more susceptible to snoring.

Should You Be Concerned About a Family History of Snoring?

Primary or habitual snoring does not cause significant sleep disruptions and does not affect oxygen levels in the blood or limit airflow into the lungs. Most people who experience primary snoring won’t feel excessively tired during the day, and those who awaken due to snoring episodes typically return to sleep within 15 seconds.

Primary snoring, while potentially disruptive to both the snorer and their sleep partner, may not need treatment. Instead, habitual snorers can take certain measures to reduce their snoring. These include avoiding alcohol and other sedatives in the hours leading up to bedtime, avoiding sleeping on their back, or losing weight. Some people also manage snoring with an anti-snoring mouthpiece.

Another, more serious type of snoring is caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is characterized by episodes of choking or gasping for air that occur during sleep, often leading to sleep disruption and daytime sleepiness.

More research is needed to determine whether OSA can be passed on genetically. Siblings or children of people with OSA are 50% more likely (8) to develop the condition compared to the general population. It’s believed the same inherited traits that put us at higher risk of snoring, such as obesity and anatomical factors,can also increase the likelihood of developing OSA (9).

When to See a Doctor About Snoring

You should consider making an appointment with a physician if you are concerned about your snoring or if you have any of the following symptoms, as they may be signs of OSA:

  • Choking or gasping during the night that wakes you from sleep
  • Waking up with headaches
  • Feeling very sleepy during the day

After an initial evaluation, your doctor may recommend further testing to diagnose or rule out OSA. It’s important to have an accurate understanding of what is causing your snoring because effective treatments are available for both OSA and habitual snoring.

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