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What is snoring?

In This Article
What is snoring?
How common is snoring?
What causes snoring?
Why do only certain people snore?
Stages of sleep and snoring
Sleeping position and snoring
Snoring in children
What is the treatment for snoring?

Snoring is noisy breathing during sleep. It is a common problem among all ages and both genders, and it affects approximately 90 million American adults — 37 million on a regular basis. Snoring may occur nightly or intermittently. Persons most at risk are males and those who are overweight, but snoring is a problem of both genders, although it is possible that women do not present with this complaint as frequently as men. Snoring usually becomes more serious as people age. It can cause disruptions to your own sleep and your bed-partner's sleep. It can lead to fragmented and un-refreshing sleep which translates into poor daytime function (tiredness and sleepiness). The two most common adverse health effects that are believed to be casually linked to snoring are daytime dysfunction and heart disease. About one-half of people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea.

While you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax, your tongue falls backward, and your throat becomes narrow and "floppy." As you breathe, the walls of the throat begin to vibrate - generally when you breathe in, but also, to a lesser extent, when you breathe out. These vibrations lead to the characteristic sound of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. Sometimes the walls of the throat collapse completely so that it is completely occluded, creating a condition called apnea (cessation of breathing). This is a serious condition which requires medical attention.

How common is snoring?

Any person can snore. Frequently, people who do not regularly snore will report snoring after a viral illness, after drinking alcohol, or when taking some medications.

People who snore can have any body type. We frequently think of a large man with a thick neck as a snorer. However, a thin woman with a small neck can snore just as loudly. In general, as people get older and as they gain weight, snoring will worsen.

What causes snoring?

Snoring is usually caused by the vibration of the soft tissues in your tongue, mouth, throat or nose.

During sleep, parts of your body relax, including your tongue, mouth, nose and throat, and this can lead to floppiness in your airways. This causes vibrations, which in turn leads to snoring. It can also sometimes be caused by an abnormality in your nose.

When we exercise, the air moves more quickly and produces some sounds as we breathe. This happens because air is moving in and out of the nose and mouth more quickly and this results in more turbulence to the airflow and some vibration of the tissues in the nose and mouth.

When we are asleep, the area at the back of the throat sometimes narrows as the muscles relax, and even close off temporarily. The same amount of air passing through this smaller opening more rapidly can cause the tissues surrounding the opening to vibrate, which in turn can cause the sounds of snoring. Different people who snore have different reasons for the narrowing. The narrowing can be in the nose, mouth, or throat. Palatal snoring is often worse when an individual breathes through his or her mouth or has nasal obstruction.

Why do only certain people snore?
There are certain factors that can mean you’re more likely to snore. This includes:

  • if you are overweight - this is the most common reason, as the fat in your neck causes pressure on your airway
  • if you sleep on your back - gravity can cause your throat to narrow
  • if you are drunk - this can cause the muscles in your neck to relax
  • if you smoke - this can cause the back of your throat to become infected
  • if you have a problem with the back of your throat
  • if you take sleeping pills, as this can cause you to become too relaxed
  • if you have sleep apnoea, where your airways become blocked whilst you are asleep
  • if you have a cold, the flu or another condition that affects your airways
  • if you are a man - men are more commonly affected by snoring than women
  • if you are between the ages of 40 to 60, but it can affect anyone, including children

Stages of sleep and snoring
Sleep consists of several stages, but in general they can be divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM stages. Snoring can occur during all or only some stages of sleep. Snoring is most common in REM sleep, because of the loss of muscle tone characteristic of this stage of sleep, and during deep sleep or non-REM Stage 3 sleep.

During REM sleep, the brain sends the signal to all the muscles of the body (except the breathing muscles) to relax. Unfortunately, the tongue, palate, and throat can collapse when they relax. This can cause the airway to narrow and worsen snoring.

Sleeping position and snoring
When we are asleep, we are usually (though not always) lying down. Gravity acts to pull on all the tissues of the body, but the tissues of the pharynx are relatively soft and floppy. Therefore, when we lie on our backs, gravity pulls the palate, tonsils, and tongue backwards. This often narrows the airway enough to cause turbulence in airflow, tissue vibration, and snoring. Frequently, if the snorer is gently reminded (for example, with a gentle thrust of the elbow to the ribs or a tickle) to roll onto his or her side, the tissues are no longer pulled backwards and the snoring lessens.

Snoring in children
If you have noticed that your child is snoring, then you should watch out for other symptoms such as a poor attention span and behavioural issues, caused by tiredness - it’s a sign they are waking up throughout the night.

Usually, their snoring can be put down to having a blocked nose, but if you’re worried, or if it happens regularly, then it is a good idea to talk to a doctor.


‚ÄčPeople who snore make a vibrating, rattling, noisy sound while breathing during sleep. It may be a symptom of sleep apnea. Consult your doctor if you snore and have any of the following symptoms or signs:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Recent weight gain
  • Awakening in the morning not feeling rested
  • Awaking at night feeling confused
  • Change in your level of attention, concentration, or memory
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep

What is the treatment for snoring?

Snoring cannot be cured, but it can be effectively treated and controlled in most cases. The most common treatments include:

  • Lose weight - if you are overweight then you will have more fat around your neck and this can limit the airflow and cause you to snore.
  • Wear nasal strips - if blocked nasal passages are causing you to breathe through your mouth.
  • Sleep on your side - you can use pillow to prop yourself up on one side.
  • Nasal dilators – these can help keep your nose open, encouraging you to breathe through it.
  • Mandibular advancement device - this device pushes your jaw and tongue forward to make more space in your airway.
  • A chin strap - this keeps your mouth closed during the night.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Ear plugs - these are for your partner, not for yourself!
  • Stop smoking if you’re a smoker.
  • A vestibular guard – this is a plastic mouth guard that forces you to breathe through your nose Stop taking sleeping pills - these can cause snoring
  • If your snoring is down to another condition, medication may work - for example, if you have hayfever, antihistamines may help with decongestion.

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