Why People Snore

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


The reasons behind one of the noisiest (and most frustrating) nighttime issues


Chances are, you know what snoring sounds like and how annoying it can be to listen to. But why does it happen? That is less well-known. The basic reason for the rumbling is tissue in and around the upper airways that, during the act of breathing, vibrates. Those vibrations are what produce the sound. It isn’t always the same body part vibrating—it can be the tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsillar pillars, or other areas. And although it seems obvious, it’s worth noting that nobody snores when they are awake. This is because when you sleep, the muscles relax in your body, including the muscles in your neck and throat area. Relaxation decreases how much space is in your airways, which can sometimes lead to snoring.

That’s the biological background on snoring, but it doesn’t explain why some people snore and others don’t. Other factors can contribute; the most common is that there’s too much tissue in the throat and nasal areas. That’s why weight gain is often connected to snoring—many people who never snored in the past will begin to do so when they put on a few pounds. Gaining weight can add to the weight of your neck, which presses down on the throat during sleep.

Positioning is also an issue. Having poor posture while sleeping can narrow your airway while a simple readjustment—say, going from your back to your side or raising your head slightly—might nip snoring in the bud. Other causes include a tongue that slides back in your mouth and narrows the airway, regular consumption of alcohol or tobacco, allergies, or nasal obstruction (perhaps due to an issue with the nasal septum, which separates your nostrils). Snoring can also be a clue that someone has sleep apnea, although the two don’t always go hand in hand. Even pregnancy can cause neck tissue to swell! Speaking to a sleep specialist or your doctor can help you pinpoint your specific cause and figure out a treatment plan, all of which is bound to improve your sleep and your romantic relationships.