Snoring

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Snoring refers to a harsh breathing sound that people commonly make when sleeping. Though estimates vary, researchers believe that between 20% and 40% of adults snore at some point in their lives. The sounds produced by snoring may not necessarily bother the sleeper, but they can affect bed partners and other people in the household.

Due to its loose definition and diagnosis, snoring can be difficult to treat, particularly since it can indicate a more serious underlying condition. We share up-to-date, research-backed tips to prevent and reduce snoring, as well as advice on when to visit a doctor.

What Causes Snoring?

People snore at night due to a variety of physical and physiological factors. During sleep, the tongue recedes to the back of the mouth, and the throat muscles relax. Snoring happens when these structures partially obstruct the flow of air through your mouth and nose, causing air to flow faster and resulting in vibrations in the walls of your throat. Certain factors can make it more likely that someone will snore:

  • Anatomy: Individuals with certain physical characteristics, like a jaw that is smaller or set further back, are more likely to experience snoring. Similarly, a sleeper with a narrow throat, a larger-than-normal tongue, a deviated septum, large tonsils, or nasal polyps has an increased likelihood of snoring.
  • Alcohol consumption: Consuming alcohol before bed reduces muscle tone, which can exacerbate snoring and other negative breathing-related sleep events through the night.
  • Age: Snoring becomes more common as people age. Studies estimate that half of sleepers over the age of 60 snore regularly.
  • Nasal congestion: A stuffy nose caused by allergies, colds, or viruses can contribute to snoring by blocking the airway and restricting the free flow of air.
  • Sex: Males and anyone with a prostate often report a higher occurrence of snoring. Also, people in the last month of their pregnancy are more likely to experience snoring, along with postmenopausal individuals.
  • Obesity: Carrying additional weight in the neck puts stress on the air passage, which can lead to snoring.
  • Genetics: People may be more likely to snore if they have family members who snore.

Is Snoring Bad For You?

Light snoring that is not accompanied by other symptoms may be mildly disruptive, but it is not typically considered a cause for concern. However, whether snoring is bad for you depends on several factors.

Although many individuals can sleep soundly while snoring, someone sharing their bedroom or bed may have trouble sleeping due to the noise. Sleep significantly affects physical and mental health, and research suggests that when the noise reaches a certain threshold, snoring can disturb the health of the sleeper as well as someone else sleeping in the same room. As a consequence of sleep disruptions, snoring may also cause daytime sleepiness, irritability, and arguments between bed partners.

Sleepers may be unfamiliar with their snoring patterns or may not know they snore at all. Bed partners can help to distinguish between light and intense snoring and report any accompanying symptoms.

Habitual snoring can sometimes be caused by severe upper airway blockage, which might be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA can lead to complications that disturb daily life and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. Fortunately, there are effective OSA treatments available that can help reduce its negative effects.

Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea

Many people with obstructive sleep apnea snore loudly, though not all people who snore have sleep apnea. Sleepers with obstructive sleep apnea partially or completely stop breathing multiple times during the night. Other symptoms related to sleep apnea include:

  • Gasping or choking during sleep: Lapses in breathing caused by obstructive sleep apnea are sometimes easy to spot, as it appears that the person is holding their breath. When obstructive sleep apnea causes a lack of airflow, the sleeper may also choke or gasp for air, causing them to wake up.
  • Daytime sleepiness: Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea commonly experience fatigue or sleepiness throughout the day, including nodding off without meaning to. They may wake up frequently during the night or find sleep to be non-restorative.
  • Headaches in the morning: Morning headaches often accompany obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring in Children

Like adults, snoring in children may be just snoring, or it may indicate that the child has obstructive sleep apnea.

During the day, a child with sleep apnea may have headaches or be sleepy, irritable, or hyperactive, and these symptoms may interfere with school performance. At night, they may snore, breathe through their mouth, have noticeable lapses in breathing, or have seemingly unrelated symptoms such as bedwetting, sleepwalking, or nightmares. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea in children may contribute to problems regulating blood sugar and unusual dental and facial development.

Parents can consider having their child screened for a sleep-related breathing disorder if they snore three or more nights each week or show other concerning symptoms. As in adults, children with obesity face a higher risk of OSA. The disorder is also more common between the ages of 2 and 8 years old because of specific physical features in the developing airway. Surgery to take out the tonsils or adenoids is often successful at reducing snoring and associated symptoms.

Whereas about 10% to 12% of children snore, only an estimated 1% to 3% of children have OSA. Regardless, it is important to report any sleep activity to your child's pediatrician for a full picture of their well-being and prompt treatment if applicable.

When to See a Doctor

If an individual experiences sleep-related concerns such as snoring, nighttime choking or gasping, noticeable lapses in breathing, morning headaches, or high blood pressure, they should consider consulting their doctor.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

Your doctor will ask questions and conduct tests, if applicable, to gain as much information as possible about your sleep habits, including how loudly and frequently you snore, how long your snoring episodes last, if you frequently wake up at night, or if you experience sleepiness or morning headaches during the day. If you sleep in the same room as another person, the doctor may ask if this person has observed you gasping or choking during sleep.

Along with an account of the severity of your snoring and how it may disrupt your waking life, providing an accurate report of your medical history can aid doctors in diagnosing sleep apnea.

For example, a history of related disorders such as heartburn or diabetes may indicate a predisposition to OSA. Taking certain medications or consuming alcohol before bedtime can also affect muscles in the airway, so it is important to include these details in your explanation.

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to consider any risk factors for sleep apnea. For example, they may inspect your air passage for any blockages. Doctors will also take note of a jaw that is smaller than usual or set further back.

If a doctor suspects that an individual could have OSA, they may order a sleep study to confirm or rule out the condition. In a sleep study, a person’s physiological signals during sleep are measured, either in a lab or at home.

How to Stop Snoring

There are many readily available options to manage snoring. Identifying the ideal treatment for snoring depends on the individual and the reason for their snoring.

Those showing signs of sleep apnea should seek professional care from their primary care physician or a sleep specialist. By contrast, individuals who just want to manage mild or moderate snoring can either consult a doctor or consider treatment at home via lifestyle changes, sleep accessories, or mouth and throat exercises.

Home Care

Making lifestyle changes alone or in conjunction with formal medical treatments can help curb snoring.

  • Change your sleeping position: Sleeping flat on your back can increase the likelihood of snoring. Instead, aim to sleep on your side. If you struggle to transition to side sleeping, try sewing a golf ball into the back of your pajama shirt. Another option is to prop up the upper body using a wedge pillow or adjustable base.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed: Though many people use alcohol to aid in the sleep process, it can disrupt sleep patterns and increase the likelihood of snoring. Sedating drugs may also cause snoring, so try to avoid these substances in the leadup to bed or ask your doctor if you can switch prescriptions.
  • Lose excess weight: Snoring may be exacerbated if a person has extra tissue in the neck. Losing weight may help relieve snoring by lowering pressure on the airway in this area.
  • Reduce or quit smoking: Along with other air pollutants, tobacco smoke may cause inflammation in the airways. Consequently, smoking is believed to increase the risk of both snoring and sleep apnea.
  • Treat congestion: Congestion creates blockages in the airway, which can cause snoring. Decongestants or corticosteroid sprays may help widen the airways and reduce snoring. Those with seasonal allergies may want to ask their doctor for advice on managing symptoms.

Anti-Snoring Mouthpieces

Anti-snoring mouthpieces known as mandibular advancement devices are designed to widen the airway by advancing the bottom jaw during sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine recommend prescribing mandibular advancement devices to people who snore but do not have OSA, along with individuals who experience obstructive sleep apnea and prefer not to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices.

Another type of anti-snoring mouthpiece is a tongue-retaining device, which holds the tongue forward using suction. While it can be effective, some people may find it uncomfortable to use this device.

Nasal Strips

Nasal strips and internal nasal dilators are engineered to help to keep the nasal cavity open, allowing for air to flow more freely. There is some evidence these devices may help improve snoring, though they are not considered a treatment for OSA.

Mouth Exercises

Individuals who snore can ask their healthcare provider about mouth and throat exercises to minimize snoring. One review found that performing these exercises helped reduce snoring by 31% to 51%, based on results from objective sleep studies and subjective questionnaires.

CPAP Machines

CPAP machines deliver pressurized air into a mask, which the individual wears over the nose and sometimes also the mouth. The air pressure helps keep the airway open during sleep, minimizing snoring and OSA symptoms.

Although they work well for preventing snoring, health insurance coverage for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines operates under fairly strict guidelines. As a result, these are more commonly prescribed for individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, rather than individuals who snore without any other severe concurrent symptoms or conditions.

Surgery

Surgery is usually only considered for people with OSA or if less invasive treatment methods fail to improve snoring. That said, for people with certain clear risk factors, such as a deviated septum, overly large tonsils, or nasal polyps, surgery might be the right option.

Some doctors may recommend surgery on nasal structures, the uvula, or the soft palate to alleviate snoring. A variety of methods are available, including laser-assisted or radiofrequency techniques. Doctors can also inject substances or insert implants that stiffen the airway and reduce the chances of it closing during sleep.

More research is needed to determine how effective surgical techniques are for people who snore but do not have sleep apnea. One study reported that, over a two-year period, nasal surgery improved long-term nasal obstruction and led to ongoing improvements in snoring.

Tips For Sleeping With Someone Who Snores

Sharing a room with someone who snores can be frustrating, but open communication and understanding are key when broaching the subject. Those who experience profound effects on their sleep based on the snoring of another person in the house may want to tactfully suggest that the person visit a doctor.

Both the person who snores and other members of the household can also take steps to reduce potential disruption from snoring, such as:

  • Wear earplugs: Sleeping with earplugs can help block out the sound of snoring in your sleep space.
  • Use a white noise machine: A white noise machine plays a soft static sound to create a light, persistent audio blanket. While some sleepers may prefer complete silence, a white noise machine helps tune out any additional sounds in the room.
  • Negotiate sleep schedules: Sounds tend to be more disruptive at the beginning and end of the sleep period. If it is feasible with your work or other demands, consider arranging slightly different sleep schedules with your partner to reduce time spent in bed while they are snoring.
  • Sleep in a separate bedroom: If a bed partner’s snoring has a significant impact on your sleep, it might be best to sleep in a separate bedroom. While this may seem drastic, better sleep can lead to a better mood during the day, so it might be the best thing for your relationship.

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