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What Causes People to Snore? How Can You Treat it?

90 million Americans report that they occasionally snore, and 37 million of those state that they snore on a regular basis1. However, this seemingly harmless breathing could be a sign of an underlying condition. While it’s usually not dangerous, snoring is something that you should at least evaluate and work to minimize, especially since this could affect your partner’s sleep as well.
Learning what could be causing your snoring can help put you on the right track toward finding a solution to minimize it. In this article, we’ll focus on varying underlying causes of snoring and potential treatment options.


Looking for a new mattress? Click here to read about our best mattress for snoring.

What Causes a Person to Snore?

The root cause of snoring is when the air you’re breathing doesn’t flow smoothly through your nose and throat when you’re sleeping. Instead, it bumps into the surrounding tissues, which causes a vibration. The resulting vibration makes the snoring sound as you breathe. Your tongue’s position may also play a part.

Allergies

When people have allergies2, the sounds can become more pronounced. This is because the airways in the nose and throat get irritated and congested, and the narrowed passages can result in snoring.

By choosing a hypoallergenic bed, you can potentially alleviate and reduce the effects of allergies (read our guide of top picks for allergies).

Dry Air and Climates

Allergies aren’t the only irritants that lead to congestion. When the air is excessively dusty or polluted3, the body’s mucous membranes do double duty to filter out particles and pollutants and nasal passages can get congested. Dry air can also result in nasal inflammation and snoring.

Weight Gain

Heavier people4 tend to have extra tissue and fatty deposits around the neck and throat area. Due to the effects of gravity, this extra tissue can restrict the airway and promote snoring.

Smoking

Tobacco exposure dries out the respiratory passageways and exposes them to chemicals and irritants, all of which lead to inflammation and narrowing of the air passageways in your nose and throat.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol relaxes the muscles in and around your throat. When those muscles relax instead of remaining taut and in place, you’re more likely to snore.

Medications

Some sleep aids5, both prescription and over-the-counter, can contribute to the relaxation of throat muscles. When these muscles are more relaxed, it can cause them to obstruct your airway, which can lead to snoring. Also, sleeping pills are likely to make you sleep more soundly, which may mean you’re less likely to be woken up by your snoring than if you don’t take any medications.

Aging

With age comes wisdom, but for many of us, it also brings about snoring. As we age6 we lose muscle tone, and experts say this can lead to an increased risk of snoring. 

Physiology of the Upper Airway

Some people are built to snore7. A larger tongue, pronounced tonsils, or a long uvula can all cause a constricted airway. Even a deviated septum or soft chin could contribute to a nightly snore fest.

Sleeping Position

If you sleep on your back, you’re more likely to snore. Usually, a sharp nudge with an elbow is enough to encourage a snorer to roll to their side, which is often enough to stop the sounds. The reason back sleeping promotes snoring is because gravity pulls the tissues down, and that’s what creates the ideal environment for this sound in the first place.
Want to learn more? Here’s our full guide on sleeping positions – find the best one!

Sleep Deprivation

For most of us, there will be times when we are not getting enough sleep. After a sleepless stretch, you’re likely to fall into a deeper, more relaxed slumber once you finally get a chance to rest up. Similar to what can happen with sleep medication, a deep sleep due to sleep deprivation may also mean that your snoring may not rouse you enough to change to a position where you’re not as likely to snore.
Learn more about sleep deprivation.

Nasal Passage and Sinus Problems

If you have a cold or stuffy nose and throat, the act of breathing itself can be a challenge. The effect is almost like a vacuum, and so people with nasal and sinus problems are frequent snorers.7

People with obstructive sleep disorders are also notorious for being snorers. Interestingly enough, people who have sleep apnea almost always snore, but people who snore don’t always have obstructive sleep apnea. While the two conditions are linked, as you can see, there are many reasons people snore other than just sleep apnea.7

Different Types of Snoring and What They Mean

Nose Snoring

Nose snoring8 is when the sound comes from a nasal obstruction, such as a deviated septum, allergies, a cold, or certain medications.

Mouth Snoring

With mouth snoring, you’re breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. Some reasons why a person might experience mouth-based snoring include blocked nasal passages, enlarged tonsils, or weak palatal tissue.8

Tongue Snoring

Tongue snoring is the result of the airways being physically blocked by the tongue when it relaxes too much, which is often caused by sleeping on your back. Other causes of tongue snoring include alcohol consumption, sleep medications, and extra fat around the neck.8

Throat Snoring

According to experts, snoring from the throat is typically the loudest and most concerning type of snoring. This is because it’s often the result of having sleep apnea. Along with frequent sleep disruptions, untreated sleep apnea can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.8

Snoring Treatment Options

Lifestyle

While sometimes it is due to factors we can’t control like genetics and gender, many times the situation can be improved with a few lifestyle changes. If your snoring is influenced by environmental conditions like dry air, for example, try using a humidifier in the bedroom to help keep passageways open in your throat and nose.

Limited alcohol consumption and smoking also help, and if certain medications are causing you to snore, consider talking with your doctor about other options.

As mentioned, heavier individuals are more likely to snore, so losing weight may improve snoring.4

Surgery

There are a variety of medical options available to help treat snoring, including surgery9.

  • Somnoplasty – This procedure removes excess tissue to help open up air passageways and ease any obstruction. It uses radiofrequency heat, and patients are awake, though numbed, so they don’t feel anything. The entire procedure takes roughly 30 minutes.
  • Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) – Your uvula dangles in the back of your throat. When it’s longer than average, it vibrates when you breathe, and as you know, those vibrations lead to snoring. This procedure shortens the uvula, while also making incisions on either side of the palate. When the cuts heal, the surrounding tissue becomes stronger, making the vibrations all but disappear.

  • Palatal implants – Just like large building structures have pillars to support them, the soft palate, also known as the back of the roof of the mouth, sometimes needs a little bit of structural security, too. Palatal implants prop up the soft palate, preventing it from relaxing and forming vibratory sounds.

Devices

If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest that you get a CPAP machine10. The device provides ventilation through a motorized base, and the user must wear a mask with a hose that forces air pressure into the airways.
Some people resist the bulk and inconvenience of CPAP machines and opt for oral appliances11 instead.

  • Mandibular advancement device – It looks like a mouth guard but has hinges that push the jaw forward, forcing the airways to stay open in the throat while simultaneously strengthening the surrounding muscles.

  • Tongue retaining mouthpiece – You place your tongue inside of this device, and it keeps your tongue up and out of your mouth. This solution is ideal for closed-mouth snorers who can trace the cause of their snoring back to a tongue issue.

 
Learn More: Top-Rated CPAP Machines

Identify Underlying Medical Illness

Before investing in an expensive device or undergoing a medical procedure from your doctor, it’s wise to find out if there’s any underlying medical condition causing you to snore. Chronic nightly snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by dozens to hundreds of episodes each night where the patient stops breathing.

Benefits of Treating Snoring

Better Sleep

Snoring is a sleep disruptor, so if you solve the problem, you may be able to sleep better overall. For example, you might find that you wake up better rested and with fewer headaches. Additionally, if your snoring has been keeping your partner awake often, they should be able to sleep better as well.

More Energy

With better sleep, you’re likely to have more physical energy. This can mean you’re more inclined to exercise, which is important for overall health.

Better Mood and Concentration

Another advantage of sleeping better is that it’s easier to stay focused throughout the day since you won’t be as sleepy. Feeling well-rested also means you’re more likely to be in a good mood.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you naturally reduce snoring using home remedies?

Nasal strips are a popular and natural way to combat snoring. They work by lifting the sides of the nose and opening the nostrils, allowing more oxygen to flow. Using natural decongestants could also help if you tend to snore due to congestion.

Sleeping in a propped-up position, either with a wedge pillow or an adjustable bed, is another viable option to reduce snoring.

Is snoring common in females?

Snoring is more common in men than it is in women.8 According to the University of Utah, 24 percent12 of adult females regularly snore, while 40 percent of men snore.

What does loud snoring indicate?

Loud snoring can be an indication of sleep apnea[9]. If you’ve also noticed that you’re drowsy during the day and you can also recall waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air, these are also possible signs of sleep apnea.

Final Word of Advice

While an occasional snore here and there is not likely anything to be concerned about, chronic snoring can be harmful to your health. If your partner has expressed concern about your snoring and you frequently wake up drowsy, we advise consulting with your doctor. They can help find the underlying cause of your snoring and suggest an appropriate treatment plan.

More Reading:

Jill Zwarensteyn

Jill Zwarensteyn

Editor

About Author

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Combination Sleeper

References:
  1. “Snoring”. Yale Medicine. Webpage accessed June 15, 2023.
  2. LeWine, MD, Howard. “Do allergies make snoring worse?” Harvard Health Publishing. 2022.
  3. Sanchez, Trinidad., et al. “Association between air pollution and sleep disordered breathing in children”. Pediatric Pulmonology. 2019.
  4. Shukla, Amitabh Das., et al. “Does ‘weight reduction help all adult snorers?”. Lung India. 2013.
  5. “Snoring”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed June 15, 2023.
  6. “Chance of snoring increases as a person ages”. UCLA Health. 2022.
  7. “Snoring”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified December 22, 2017.
  8. “Different Types of Snoring: Why they Occur & How to Diagnose?”. ResMed. Webpage accessed July 9, 2023.
  9. “Surgical Alternatives to CPAP”. University of Michigan Health. Webpage accessed July 9, 2023.
  10. Katella, Kathy. “7 Things to Know About Sleep Apnea and CPAP”. Yale Medicine. 2022.
  11. “Oral Appliance Therapy”. American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Webpage accessed June 15, 2023.
  12. “SNORING: WHAT CAUSES IT AND HOW TO TREAT IT”. University of Utah. 2017.