90 million Americans report that they occasionally snore, and 37 million of those state that snore on a regular basis. 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.
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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.
When people have allergies, the sounds can become more pronounced. This is because the airways in the nose and throat get irritated and congested, which could 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 dry, dusty, or polluted, the body’s mucous membranes do double duty to filter out particles and pollutants.
Heavier people tend to have extra tissue and fatty deposits around the neck and throat area. Due to the effects of gravity, it can collapse the muscles, restrict the airway, and promote snoring.
The dry air you create in your lungs by smoking, combined with the chemicals and irritants in tobacco, leads to inflammation, which also reduces the size of the air passageways in your nose and throat.
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.
Some sleep aids , 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.
With age comes wisdom, but for many of us, it also brings about snoring. As we age, our skin and tissues lose elasticity and moisture. The drier tissue is more susceptible to the vibrations that cause noise in our throat & nose.
Physiology of the Upper Airway
Some people are built to snore! 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.
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 this position causes the throat muscles to relax, 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!
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.
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.
Different Types of Snoring and What They Mean
Nose snoring is when the sound comes from a nasal obstruction, such as a deviated septum, allergies, a cold, or certain medications.
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.
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.
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.
Snoring Treatment Options
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.
There are a variety of medical options available to help treat snoring, including surgery.
- Somnoplasty – This procedure removes excess tissue to help open up the air’s 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.
- Surgical procedures – In cases where the tissue abnormality is severe, actual surgery may be required to open up the airway enough to prevent snoring. One routine procedure is a tonsillectomy, in which the tonsils are removed. Others include a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) or thermal ablation palatoplasty (TAP).
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest that you get a CPAP machine. 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 appliances 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
Lower Blood Pressure
While the cause is not entirely known, researchers have uncovered that high blood pressure and snoring may be closely linked. Therefore, if you are able to stop snoring, you could also theoretically lower your blood pressure.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes and Stroke
As mentioned earlier, snoring that results from sleep apnea can increase your risk of long-term health complications like diabetes and stroke. Therefore, treating snoring could potentially minimize your risk of developing these issues.
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.
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 underlying muscles of your nose, allowing more oxygen to flow. Using natural decongestants could also help if you tend to snore due to congestion.
Is snoring common in females?
Snoring is more common in men than it is in women. According to the University of Utah, 24 percent of adult females regularly snore.
What does loud snoring indicate?
Loud snoring can be an indication of sleep apnea. 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.
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