Why Do People Snore?


Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. snore (1), but not everyone snores for the same reason. Figuring out the root cause of your snoring can help you determine how best to treat it. We’ll cover why people snore, the most common factors that contribute to snoring, and the best ways to reduce your snoring.

What is Snoring?

Snoring is a loud, repetitive sound that occurs in some people as they breathe during sleep. The sound of snoring is the result of vibrations in the soft tissues (2) in the back of the throat.

As you sleep, the tongue and the roof of the mouth relax. This relaxation narrows the upper airway (3), softens the tissue, and causes vibrations as you breathe.

How Common Is Snoring?

It’s hard to know exactly how many people snore. Unless a patient undergoes a sleep study, doctors must rely on self-reported symptoms. And unless you sleep with a partner, you may not be aware that you're snoring every night.

As a result, figures on the number of people who snore are only rough estimates. However, researchers believe snoring is widespread. One study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed survey responses from nearly 75,000 U.S. adults and found that about 48% of adults snore.

Some people are more likely to snore than others. For example, men are more likely to snore than women. Around 56% of men report snoring, compared to 39% of women.

Older adults are also more likely to snore than younger adults. Only about 25% of young people aged 18 to 24 snore.

Why Do We Snore?

Certain factors make some people more likely to snore than others, especially conditions and behaviors that block airflow or increase the relaxation of the soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep. The most common underlying conditions and related factors that cause people to snore include:

Sleep-Disordered Breathing

Sleep-disordered breathing (4) is a general term for any condition that causes increased resistance in the upper airways, and it is strongly associated with snoring. Sleep-disordered breathing includes sleep apnea, the interruption of breathing in your sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea (5). OSA causes repeated upper airway collapse throughout the night (6). Upper airway collapse blocks breathing, leading to reduced blood oxygen levels, fragmented sleep, and daytime sleepiness. One of the most obvious and prevalent signs of OSA is loud snoring.

The Anatomy of Your Airway

For some sleepers, the shape of their mouth, throat, or nasal cavity (7) can contribute to loud snoring. If you have a higher BMI, fat deposited around the neck can restrict the space in your throat, reduce airflow, and make you more likely to snore.

Obstructions that narrow the nasal cavity like a deviated septum (8) are associated with snoring and an increased risk of sleep apnea. Similarly, chronic nasal congestion can restrict airflow through your nose, making snoring more likely.

Lifestyle Factors

A number of lifestyle factors contribute to snoring. Sleep deprivation is associated with a long list of health issues (9) and increases your risk of snoring. The CDC’s analysis found that adults who report sleeping less than seven hours in a 24-hour period are more likely to snore.

Aside from your age, gender, and sleep quantity, other lifestyle factors that can make you more likely to snore include:

  • Increased body mass index (BMI)
  • Alcohol or sedative use
  • Pregnancy

When to See a Doctor

It isn’t entirely clear whether snoring by itself is a health risk (10), but the general consensus among doctors is that primary snoring, or snoring that doesn’t cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night, is typically not a health concern.

However, severe snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition like sleep apnea. If you experience other symptoms of sleep apnea such as excessive daytime sleepiness and morning headaches in addition to heavy snoring, schedule an appointment with your doctor and discuss your symptoms. Your doctor can help you determine how to best treat your snoring.

Treatments for Snoring

How you and your doctor decide to treat your snoring will largely depend on the root cause. If your snoring is the result of undiagnosed sleep apnea, heavy snoring will likely improve by targeting and treating your sleep-disordered breathing. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (11), a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, helps keep your airway open as you sleep and reduces snoring.

If the anatomy of your nose, mouth, or throat is causing you to snore, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. An ENT specialist can evaluate your symptoms and recommend surgical procedures to fix structural problems (12) such as enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum.

Over-the-counter remedies including nasal strips or oral appliances (13) can also help keep  your airways open and reduce snoring. However, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine strongly recommends that you consult with your dentist before using any oral devices (14) to avoid unintended symptoms, like jaw pain.

For general snoring, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to address snoring risk factors. These can include:

  • Modifying your sleep position to prevent airway blockage
  • Losing weight
  • Avoiding alcohol or sedative drugs before bed
  • Treating nasal congestion issues

Light snoring may not be an issue, but heavy snoring can interrupt your sleep and may be a sign of a sleep-disordered breathing condition, like sleep apnea. But there are plenty of options when it comes to reducing your snoring. Consulting your doctor can help you determine the underlying cause of your snoring and how to treat it.

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