About 90 million people1 in the U.S. snore on occasion, while about 37 million snore regularly. Because it is so common, many people assume that snoring is just a perfectly normal part of sleep, but this isn’t always the case.
While some snoring can be normal, snoring often or loudly can point to something more serious — sleep apnea. In this article, we’ll go into further detail on the difference between what is considered safe and dangerous snoring. We’ll also talk about the various causes behind snoring and how you can treat it.
Is Snoring Dangerous?
Snoring can be dangerous in certain circumstances. As mentioned, snoring is common. In fact, most people snore2 at some point in their life or another. However, there is a difference between occasional, light snoring and loud, regular snoring.
Occasional, light snoring is not usually an indicator of a serious underlying issue. For example, if you get seasonal allergies and find yourself congested, you (or your partner) might notice an uptick in your snoring. If this subsides once you treat your allergies and doesn’t impact your sleep, it is not considered dangerous snoring.
However, if you’re snoring loudly most nights of the week and it does impact your sleep, this would be considered dangerous snoring for several reasons. First, this type of snoring can lead to sleep deprivation, which is harmful to your health3. Second, this snoring may point to sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that can cause all sorts of health issues if left untreated.
When Should I Be Concerned About Snoring?
When sleep apnea is the cause of your snoring, you should be concerned. Sleep apnea4 is a sleep disorder in which the sleeper’s breathing starts and stops throughout the night. Both snoring and sleep apnea are caused by the muscles in the throat and back of the mouth relaxing when we go to sleep. In some cases, these relaxed tissues vibrate together with inhales and exhales, which is what creates the sound of snoring.2
However, with sleep apnea, the airway narrows so much that the sleeper can no longer get enough oxygen. These pauses in breathing cause them to wake up periodically throughout the night so that they can get enough air. These awakenings may be so short that the sleeper doesn’t even remember them, but they still impact the person’s sleep quality and long-term health.4
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
While many people snore, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have sleep apnea; however, snoring is one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea. Below are the other common signs to watch out for4:
- Loud snoring several nights of the week
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during the night (as noticed by someone else)
- Gasping for air during the night
- Morning headache
- Morning dry mouth
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty paying attention during the day
If your snoring is accompanied by any of these symptoms, you might have sleep apnea and should speak to your doctor about treatment options. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to the following health and safety issues:
- Sleep-deprived partners – If you sleep next to somebody, the type of loud snoring and breathing that accompanies sleeping apnea is likely to impact their rest.4
- Sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue – Sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue can impact your daily functioning and ability to concentrate. Studies show that people with fatigue due to sleep apnea have a higher risk of getting into motor vehicle5 and workplace accidents6.
- High blood pressure and heart problems – Those with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to experience high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, recurrent heart attacks, stroke, or even sudden death.4
- Type 2 diabetes – Sleep apnea increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.4
- Complications with medications and surgeries – Sleep apnea can lead to complications with certain medications or surgeries that involve anesthesia or recovery time while lying on the back.4
- Liver problems: Untreated sleep apnea can cause irregular results on liver tests and increase the risk of liver scarring.4
- Metabolic syndrome: This disorder includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, an increased waist circumference, and a higher risk for heart disease.4
Additional Causes of Snoring
Not all snoring is caused by sleep apnea. Below are some other common causes of snoring.
- Obesity or excess weight – Excess body fat means excess fat in the chest, neck, throat, and tongue7. This extra tissue can cause or worsen snoring by narrowing the airway.1
- An anatomical issue – Some people have anatomical issues that cause snoring, like a long uvula (the dangly part in the back of the throat), or a deviated septum. The septum is the bone and cartilage between the nostrils, and when it is crooked (or “deviated”) it can cause breathing issues like snoring.1
- Nasal congestion or obstruction – Nasal congestion caused by allergies, a cold, or other illnesses can temporarily increase snoring. Obstructions like nasal polyps or growths can also block breathing and cause snoring.1
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy not only causes weight gain, which can increase snoring, but certain pregnancy hormones can increase nasal congestion. This is especially true during the third trimester but could occur at any time during pregnancy.1
- Alcohol use – Alcohol suppresses the central nervous system, causing the muscles in the throat to further relax. This can either cause or worsen snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.2
- Certain medications -Like alcohol, certain medications that suppress the central nervous system can cause an increase in snoring and sleep apnea. Opioids8 are an example of these. Other types of medication that have been found to increase snoring include supplemental testosterone and any medications that may cause you to gain weight.8
- Weak muscle tone in the throat and tongue – Weakening muscle tone can be a natural product of aging, which is one reason older people are more likely to snore or have sleep apnea. However, substances like alcohol and sedatives can also weaken muscle tone, which allows the airway to collapse and result in snoring or sleep apnea.1
- Sleeping on your back – Everybody’s throat muscles relax while sleeping, however, the chances of the airway collapsing during sleep are greater if you’re lying on your back. This is because, in this position, gravity is allowing the tongue to fall backward, which can block air and cause snoring.1
- Sleep deprivation – Not getting enough sleep can relax the throat even more, possibly leading to snoring.2 This can create a cycle since snoring and sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation, and then sleep deprivation can cause sleep apnea9 and snoring.
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids – Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are a cause of snoring or sleep apnea, especially in children. In fact, this is the number one cause10 of snoring in children.
Ways to Treat Snoring
There are several ways to treat snoring, depending on how severe the snoring is and what is causing it.
If you’re snoring because you’re overweight, your doctor will likely recommend that you make lifestyle changes to reach a more healthy weight.1
If your snoring is due to sedatives – either alcohol or medications – you can try avoiding these substances to see if this improves your snoring.1 In the case of medications, talk to your doctor to see if there are any alternatives they might prescribe.
Finally, if you sleep on your back and have mild to moderate snoring, the solution might be as simple as sleeping on your side or stomach.1 However, if you can’t transition over to side or stomach sleeping, it might also help to get a higher pillow. Research shows11 that sleeping at an incline can help reduce snoring.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral devices or mouthguards to prevent snoring. They work by holding the jaw, tongue, and soft palate in their proper position to help prevent the airway from collapsing throughout the night.2
Also known as “myofunctional therapy,” mouth-strengthening exercises have been proven to reduce snoring12 and even mild sleep apnea13. If your doctor thinks this will help your snoring, they may refer you to a dentist, sleep specialist, or speech pathologist.
These adhesive strips are applied to the bridge of the nose and work by slightly opening up the nasal passageway. They may be a good option for those with congestion or light snoring, but experts warn, they won’t help with severe snoring or sleep apnea.2
If your snoring stems from underlying congestion due to allergies, a cold, asthma, or even a food sensitivity, you’ll need to focus on clearing up your congestion in order to breathe easier at night. This might mean using a Neti pot or saline solution to flush out the sinuses, using allergy or cold medications, or even a prescription nasal spray. If you’re congested, you should also be mindful about drinking plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and perhaps using a humidifier at night to keep your nose and throat hydrated.
If your snoring is due to sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. The CPAP consists of a small bedside pump, which attaches to a tube, which attaches to a mask. The pump provides a steady stream of air pressure through the tube and into the mask, which keeps the airway from collapsing during sleep.2
Our team has compiled a list of the Best CPAP Devices here.
If you’ve tried other treatment options with no luck, you might ask your doctor about surgery. There are several different types of upper airway surgeries, which clear out excess tissue in the airway to prevent it from becoming blocked at night.
If you snore because of a deviated septum, you may have to get septoplasty surgery, which corrects the bone and cartilage of the septum to make breathing easier. Finally, you might have to get a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy if your snoring is due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids – but again, this is much more common in children.2
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do people snore?
When we sleep, the muscles of the throat relax. For some people or in some instances, this causes the airway to become small enough that air has trouble passing through. In these cases, the relaxed tissue in the throat and back of the mouth vibrate, making the sound we know as snoring.1
This can be caused by a number of factors, including allergies or congestion, alcohol consumption, weight gain, enlarged tonsils, sleeping on the back, or obstructive sleep apnea.1
Do babies snore?
Babies do snore. Sometimes this is because of congestion due to allergies or a cold combined with their smaller nasal passageways; other times it could be because of enlarged tonsils or adenoids16. If your baby snores more than three nights a week, or if you notice them pause in their breathing or gasping for air, speak to their pediatrician.
Is snoring bad for your heart?
If the snoring stems from sleep apnea, yes, it is bad for your heart. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, an increased risk of stroke, and other heart problems.2
Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.
- 1. “Snoring”. Yale Medicine. Webpage accessed November 2, 2024. –
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- 4. “Sleep Apnea”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified April 6, 2024. –
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- 6. Garbarino MD PhD, Sergio., et al. “Risk of Occupational Accidents in Workers with Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Sleep. 2016. –
- 7. “Losing Tongue Fat Improves Sleep Apnea”. Penn Medicine. 2020. –
- 8. Jullian‐Desayes, Ingrid., et al. “Impact of concomitant medications on obstructive sleep apnoea”. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2017. –
- 9. “Sleep Deprivation”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified August 11, 2022. –
- 10. “Snoring: When To Be Concerned?”. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 2019. –
- 11. Danoff-Burg PhD, Sharon., et al. “Sleeping in an Inclined Position to Reduce Snoring and Improve Sleep: In-home Product Intervention Study”. JMIR Formative Research. 2022. –
- 12. Camacho, Macario., et al. “Oropharyngeal and tongue exercises (myofunctional therapy) for snoring: a systematic review and meta-analysis”. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology. 2017. –
- 13. Camacho MD, Macario., et al. “Myofunctional Therapy to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Sleep. 2015. –
- 14. “THE EFFECT SMOKING HAS ON YOUR SINUSES”. American Sinus Institute. Webpage accessed November 2, 2024. –
- 15. Purani, Himal., Friedrichsen, Samantha., Allen, Alicia. “Sleep quality in cigarette smokers: Associations with smoking-related outcomes and exercise”. National Library of 2019. –
- 16. Marcy, Lauren. “Signs Your Child’s Snoring Should Be Taken Seriously”. Michigan Medicine. 2018. –