Snoring (1) refers to a sound people commonly produce while breathing during sleep. An estimated 24% of women, 40% of men, and 10% of children snore regularly, though numbers vary across studies. Snoring is not considered a sleep disorder, but it can be disruptive to bed partners and often accompanies certain sleep disorders. Learn tips to prevent snoring and when to visit a doctor.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is the result of vibrations (2) in the upper airway, which slackens during sleep and leaves less room for air to pass through. Snoring occurs more commonly when breathing in, though it can also happen when breathing out. Most people snore louder when they are in deep sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Multiple factors can contribute to snoring:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes multiple lapses in breathing throughout the night, which disrupt sleep quality.
- Chronic Nasal Congestion: Nasal polyps, a deviated septum, or anything that causes difficulty breathing through the nose (3), such as a blocked nose from a cold, flu, or environmental allergies (4), can contribute to snoring.
- Facial Structures: Swelling or unusually large adenoids, tonsils, roof of the mouth, tongue, or uvula (the bell-shaped tissue at the back of the mouth) can cause vibrations while sleeping.
- Weak Throat Muscles: Alcohol, nicotine, and sleeping pills can contribute to the slackening of muscles in the airway. These muscles may also weaken with age.
- Tongue Placement: If your tongue slides toward the back of your mouth, it can partially block the airway. This may be more common when sleeping on your back.
- Jaw Size: People whose jaw (5) is smaller than usual or set back in the face may be more likely to snore.
- Obesity or Being Overweight: Being overweight or obese raises the likelihood of snoring, especially if you have more tissue around your neck that can weigh down on the airway, causing it to narrow when you sleep on your back.
- Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can relax the muscles in the upper airway, promoting snoring, especially in men (6). The same effect may happen when taking certain drugs or muscle relaxants.
- Smoking: Smoking can inflame and irritate the airways and increase the risk of snoring.
- Pregnancy: Many women start snoring (7) during pregnancy and may continue to snore (8) after their pregnancy.
- Genetics: Snoring often runs in families (9), and it may have a genetic component.
Is Snoring Bad?
Snoring by itself is not generally considered harmful (10). If there is no accompanying lapse in breathing, then snoring does not have a major effect on sleep quality or daytime sleepiness (11). However, snoring is often accompanied by an underlying condition.
Notably, snoring can indicate that a person has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. OSA can also occur in children (12). Another condition that is less serious than OSA but more serious than simple snoring is upper airway resistance syndrome, which affects sleep quality without causing lapses in breathing.
New research suggests that simple snoring on its own may also be linked to health effects, including high blood pressure (13), cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (14), as well as behavioral and attentional problems (15) in children. More research is needed to confirm these connections.
How to Stop Snoring
Multiple strategies to stop snoring exist. Certain strategies work better than others, depending on the cause of a particular person's snoring.
Implementing simple lifestyle changes may reduce snoring:
- Change Your Sleep Position: If you snore more when lying on your back, you may want to place a pillow behind your back to help keep you on your side. It may also help to elevate the top half of your body using a wedge pillow or a bed with an adjustable base.
- Lose Weight: Weight loss may be an effective way to reduce snoring if you are overweight or obese.
- Avoid Alcohol Before Bed: Alcohol, nicotine, and sedatives can relax the tissues in your airway and lead to snoring, so it is best to avoid them before bedtime.
- Treat Allergy Symptoms: Avoiding environmental allergens when possible and clearing a congested nose can open up the airway, resulting in less snoring.
Oral appliances (16) can be used to treat snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. One of the most common oral appliances is the mandibular advancement device, designed to bring the jaw forward (17) and prevent the airway from closing.
Another type of oral appliance is the tongue retaining device, which secures the tongue to prevent it from blocking the airway.
If a blocked nose is contributing to your snoring, you may be able to reduce symptoms using a nasal dilator, nasal spray, or nasal strips that open the nasal passages.
Mouth and tongue exercises (18) may reduce the neck circumference and help relieve pressure on the airway. Research shows that specific exercises developed by speech therapists lead to reduced snoring. Examples of such exercises include pronouncing a vowel continuously and intermittently for three minutes, pushing the tongue against the roof of the mouth, and moving the jaw back and forth.
If simpler snoring remedies do not help you stop snoring, your doctor may recommend surgery. For example, if your snoring is caused by enlarged tonsils, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum, you may be able to get these surgically corrected. Other surgical procedures sometimes used to treat obstructive sleep apnea include removing tissues from the uvula or the back of the mouth, reshaping tissue using a laser, or stiffening tissues in the airway using targeted heat, intentional scarring, or plastic inserts.
Using a CPAP Machine
Doctors often prescribe continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy to people with obstructive sleep apnea. These devices supply airflow through a mask to keep the windpipe open during sleep and may reduce snoring.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
It is normal to snore sometimes, but you should consult a healthcare professional if you believe you might have sleep apnea. In particular, talk to your doctor if you notice:
- Unrefreshing sleep or morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness
- Memory problems or trouble concentrating
- Weight gain or obesity
- Snoring that does not respond to home treatments
- Lapses in breathing during the night
- Choking and gasping
- Very loud and constant snoring
- High blood pressure
Your doctor may ask you questions about your snoring or refer you to a sleep specialist to conduct a sleep study. They may also ask your bed partner if they have witnessed you choking, gasping, or halting your breathing while asleep.
Children also snore at times. If you notice that your child is snoring, it is important to discuss your concerns with a pediatrician in order to diagnose and treat (19) any underlying sleep issues.
Tips for Sleeping with Someone Who Snores
Snoring can affect sleep quality for a bed partner, as well. Those who sleep with someone who snores are more likely to have trouble sleeping (20), wake up feeling unrefreshed, and feel tired during the day. It may help to use ear plugs or a white noise machine to muffle the sound of your partner’s snoring.
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