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What Causes Snoring in Females?

Occasional snoring is common; in fact, almost everybody snores1 now and then. However, research shows2 that between the sexes, males are much more likely to report their snoring than females, and so they’re much more likely to get treatment for it. 

This may be because there is more of a social stigma about females snoring, and their symptoms are more often misdiagnosed as something else (usually depression).2 Also, if they sleep next to someone who is a deeper sleeper (which men usually are), their partner may not be disturbed by their snoring, so some women really may not know how bad it is.2 

However, just like males, females snore, and it is important to recognize the risk factors, the causes, and the symptoms in order to get treatment when needed. 

Reasons for Snoring in Females

As briefly mentioned, it is not uncommon for females to snore. In fact, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 24 percent of women snore regularly.2 However, the reasons why women snore can vary.

Pregnancy

The chances of snoring increase3 during pregnancy for a couple of reasons. First, pregnancy hormones dilate blood vessels and cause the mucous membranes in the nose to swell. This increases congestion, oftentimes forcing the sleeper to breathe through the mouth during sleep, which can lead to snoring.3

Second, pregnancy causes weight gain, and that excess weight can press down on the airways, which leads to snoring and sometimes, obstructive sleep apnea.1, 3

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OS) is the most common form of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing starts and stops throughout the night.4 

With obstructive sleep apnea, this starting and stopping of breath is caused by an obstruction in the airway that happens when the throat muscles relax during sleep. In certain circumstances, the airway becomes collapsed, which makes it so the sleeper can’t get enough oxygen. They then wake up throughout the night to regulate their oxygen levels.4

Common symptoms of OSA are loud snoring or snorting, gasping for air during the night, insomnia, daytime fatigue, morning dry mouth, morning headache, irritability, and difficulty paying attention.4 

However, when women report some of these symptoms, they are more likely to be misdiagnosed with something like depression rather than sleep apnea.2 This can be dangerous because if left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, complications with medicines or surgeries, liver problems, increased risk for car wrecks, and even sudden death.4 

Read More: Best CPAP Masks for Women

Age

As men and women age, their chances of snoring and sleep apnea increase. This is because the muscle tone in the throat and tongue naturally decreases with age5, which can make snoring more likely. Additionally, age-related weight gain can increase the chances of snoring and sleep apnea.

Females, though, have an additional card stacked against them in this department. According to recent research6, there is a link between obstructive sleep apnea risk and low estrogen and progesterone levels. When women go through menopause, their estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically. This is why older women who have gone through menopause have a higher risk of both snoring and sleep apnea.6

Being Overweight or Obese

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 34.1 percent of males and 27.5 percent of females are overweight7. The numbers in the U.S. are actually even higher for those who are obese – 43 percent of men are obese, and 41.9 percent of women are obese. In cases of severe obesity, more women are severely obese compared to men.7

These numbers are important because excess weight and obesity are one of the main risk factors8 behind snoring and sleep apnea. In fact, the more excess weight you carry, the more likely you’ll snore or develop sleep apnea.8

Since women are nearly as likely as men to be obese and are more likely than men to be severely obese, this may be a major reason behind snoring and sleep apnea in a large population of females. 

Learn more about how obesity impacts sleep.

Nasal Problems

Certain nasal problems like allergies, congestion, or a deviated septum can lead to either occasional or consistent snoring in women.1 

Research shows that females are slightly more likely than males9 to experience allergies. Additionally, research shows10 that a crooked (or “deviated”) septum is just as common in males and females. However, in women, a deviated septum is more likely to cause a thickening of the sinuses, which could lead to increased snoring.10

Sleep Position

As mentioned, snoring can happen when the muscles in the throat and tongue relax during sleep, and these relaxed tissues vibrate together. When we lie on our backs, gravity helps this process along. In this position, the relaxed tongue is more likely to fall backward, and the airway is more likely to collapse. This makes it harder to breathe properly, which can lead to snoring.1 

If you snore or have sleep apnea, experts advise sleeping on your side or stomach11 instead to help keep your airway more open.

Alcohol and Certain Medications

Research shows12 that people who take certain medications, including opioids, supplemental testosterone, and any medicines that can induce weight gain, can increase their risk of snoring and sleep apnea. Interestingly, females are more likely13 to be prescribed opioids than males. 

Plus, some of the most common medications that can cause weight gain – antidepressants14, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy15 – are also more commonly prescribed for females.

Alcohol is also a risk factor for both snoring and sleep apnea because alcohol further relaxes the throat muscles, which decreases your body’s natural defenses against airway obstruction.1 According to the CDC, nearly half of all adult women16 in the U.S. reported drinking within the last 30 days. This may account for occasional snoring in women. 


How Can a Woman Stop Snoring?

If you’re struggling with snoring, the best thing you can do is to see your doctor to find out what exactly is causing your snoring. Remedies for snoring can include at-home practices, as well as some formal treatment options from your healthcare provider.

  • Lose weight – Research shows that losing just 10 percent of body fat17 can dramatically reduce sleep apnea symptoms, including snoring. 
  • Change your sleep position – For those who have occasional snoring or even minor cases of sleep apnea, it may be enough to simply start sleeping on your side or stomach.11 This should help open up the airway. 
  • If you’re pregnant – Experts say that pregnant people who didn’t experience regular snoring before their pregnancy should expect the snoring to clear up on its own within about two weeks18 of delivery. We also mentioned that side sleeping is a better position for snoring.11 The good news here is that the American Pregnancy Association19 says that sleeping on your left side is the best sleep position for pregnant people. We also advise consulting with your healthcare provider for additional treatment options if your snoring persists.
  • Sleep at an incline – If you can’t get comfortable in any position other than on your back, you might try getting a higher pillow, or even an adjustable bed frame, which will allow you to sleep at an incline. Research shows20 that sleeping at an incline can help reduce snoring and minor sleep apnea symptoms. See our best pillows for snoring too.
  • Clear out congestion – If you have occasional snoring caused by congestion, you’ll need to resolve the congestion21 to resolve the snoring. This might look like taking allergy medications, using nasal sprays or a saline solution, avoiding any foods you might have a sensitivity to, quitting smoking, staying hydrated during the day, and possibly using a humidifier at night to keep your throat and nose from drying up.21
  • Nasal strips – Nasal strips are useful in those with occasional or mild snoring22 caused by congestion. They work by adhering to the outside of the nose to help open up the nostrils. 
  • Avoid alcohol before bed – Consuming alcohol, particularly close to your bedtime, can lead to snoring.1 While avoiding alcohol altogether is ideal, if you still plan to have a drink in the evening, experts advise stopping at least three hours23 before you go to sleep. 
  • Avoid certain medications – Medications like opioids or anything that increases your weight or testosterone levels are more likely to make you snore or develop sleep apnea.12 You may want to stop taking these medications, but be sure to do so with the help of your doctor. 
  • Mouth exercises – As mentioned above, snoring can be due to a loss of muscle tone in the mouth area.5 However, certain mouth-strengthening exercises24 may help build up muscle and alleviate snoring in some people.
  • HRT for menopause – Some people going through menopause choose to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease some of their symptoms, such as hot flashes.15 Though more research is needed, some theorize that HRT might also help with snoring.6 However, HRT is also one of the medications that can result in weight gain, which is also a cause of snoring. 
  • CPAP therapy – If your snoring is caused by sleep apnea, your doctor or sleep specialist might recommend you try CPAP therapy. A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure25 device, is made up of a small, portable machine that’s attached to a thin tube, and that tube is connected to a mask. The mask fits over the nose and/or mouth, and the machine delivers a continuous amount of air pressure to keep your airways from collapsing during sleep.25 Browse CPAP machines here.
  • Oral appliances – Some people who snore because of mild sleep apnea and can’t tolerate a CPAP machine may use certain oral appliances26. These work by repositioning the jaw and tongue to help keep the airway open. To get one of these, your doctor will need to refer you to a qualified dentist. Discover our picks for the best anti-snoring mouthguards here.
  • Surgery – If none of the other methods work, surgery is an option. There are several types of surgery to fix snoring, most of which focus on removing excess tissue in the throat.1 Other common surgeries include tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies (often done in children) and surgeries to correct the shape of a deviated septum.1

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes loud snoring?

Loud snoring that occurs multiple nights a week is often a sign of sleep apnea, which is when you experience gaps in breathing while sleeping, usually due to an obstruction in the airway from the throat collapsing too much.4

When should snoring be a concern?

Occasional or light snoring is not usually a concern, but if you snore loudly and regularly, it may be a sign of sleep apnea. This sleep disorder can be dangerous, so be sure to speak to a doctor if you think you might have it. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many more health problems.4

What causes sudden snoring in females?

Sudden snoring in females might be the result of hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause, rapid weight gain, an increase in alcohol consumption, temporary nasal congestion, or new medications.1, 3, 6, 12

Natalie G.

Natalie G.

Writer

About Author

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.

Combination Sleeper

    Resources

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