Snoring is the sound of turbulence and soft tissue vibration in the back of the throat. The sound of snoring generally does not come from the nose. Snoring is a common and familiar sound. You may not even know that you snore, because it happens while you’re sleeping.
When you hear someone snore, the sound you’re hearing is actually turbulent air flowing through a narrowed, or partially obstructed airway. (1)
During sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat relax. When this happens, the diameter of the airway decreases while air turbulence increases. This means that when the tissues in the neck and airway relax, they constrict and partially block the airway. (2) When air moves through the constricted space, the tissues vibrate and you hear the snoring sound.
Since just about everyone has these soft tissues as part of their anatomy, you may wonder if everyone snores. Although snoring is common, not everyone does it.
How common is snoring?
Snoring is a worldwide finding. About half of all adults in the United States snore at least occasionally. Many adults are not even aware that they snore because it happens during sleep when awareness is limited. (3) Children also snore. So do many other species of animals. Bulldogs are infamous for being loud sleepers.
Do you snore? There is a snoring app for that.
Risk Factors for Snoring:
- As we get older, we are more likely to snore due to the weakening of muscle tone. As the muscle tone decreases, the tissues become more relaxed and are more likely to obstruct the airway. (4)
- Men are more likely to snore than women because they’re typically born with narrower airways. Smaller airways are more likely to make snoring sounds during sleep.
- There is a strong correlation between weight and snoring. When someone is overweight, he or she also has excess fatty tissue in the neck and around the airway. The extra fat is often accompanied by a decrease in muscle tone. It is common for someone that is overweight to snore.
- Sleep position. Many people only snore while lying supine (on the back) and can be classified as positional obstructive sleep apnea (POSA). Sleeping this way allows for the jaw and tongue to fall back into the airway and cause snoring.
- Alcohol is a sedative and depressant, which relaxes the muscles, including the muscles found around the airway, including the jaw and the tongue.
- Certain medications. There are some medications, including sleeping pills, that can act as sedatives and relax the muscles of the airway, causing you to snore. Some of these medications fall under the category of benzodiazepines, which are commonly used to treat anxiety.
- For some people, their anatomy alone may be causing them to snore. This could be due to a deviated septum, having a large neck, small jawbone, elongated soft palate, or enlarged tongue, tonsils, or uvula.
- Nasal polyps. When someone has nasal polyps, they have a hard time breathing through their noses and become mouth breathers. Many times this will cause them to snore.
- Smoking cigarettes causes irritation in the airway that leads to swelling of the tissues and excess mucus production. This can narrow the airway and cause snoring.
- Having seasonal or environmental allergies can make someone’s nose stuffy which can lead to snoring.
Learn more about why people snore.
Snoring alone may be fairly harmless. Many times it’s the snorer’s partner that is the one losing sleep.
A minimal amount of snore sounds are considered normal, especially during times of illness when the airways are often swollen and stuffy.
However, snoring can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Other symptoms for OSA include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Memory problems
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Inability to cope with stress, or easy irritability
- Frequent headaches, especially when waking in the morning
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and think you may have OSA, it’s imperative that you consult with a doctor to see if you have it.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Although snoring and OSA are often combined, OSA differs from snoring. OSA is a serious condition that needs to be treated and snoring can actually be a sign of having OSA. As mentioned, snoring alone is pretty harmless.
Sleep apnea is characterized by long pauses of breathing during sleep. These pauses can last for several seconds to even minutes, and someone with sleep apnea may awaken themselves by gasping for air.
During these pauses in breathing blood-oxygen levels fall and this puts extra stress on the heart. If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to irregular heartbeat, heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, or stroke. It can also be a contributing factor to obesity.
Additionally, the harsh sound of snoring can interrupt sleeping patterns and lead to excessive fatigue and loss of focus. This can be extremely problematic in the workplace, while driving, while operating heavy machinery, or just trying to do everyday tasks.
Treatments for snoring include:
- Weight loss. If you’re overweight, losing weight can help you stop snoring. When you lose body fat, you’re also losing excess fat in your neck and airway, allowing for air to flow more freely while you sleep. (5) It can also improve or even eliminate OSA.
- Avoid alcohol consumption. If you do indulge in an alcoholic beverage, make sure it’s at least three hours before you go to sleep.
- Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is smart for several reasons. But if you snore, dropping cigarettes will help improve airway irritation and clean out excess mucus, letting air flow through much easier.
- Allergy medications/decongestant. If you have allergies or a stuffy nose, you may want to consider an allergy medication, decongestant, or nasal spray. Your doctor can help you decide which medication is best for your needs.
- Change your sleep position. Have you ever had someone nudge you and say, “roll-over”? Many people that snore are back sleepers, and sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to relax and fall back into your airway. (6) “Rolling over” works because it prevents this from happening. Try sleeping on your side if possible. Also, there are now wearable snoring positional therapy devices out there that can help keep you off your back.
- Snoring surgery. Sometimes when your anatomy is the cause of snoring, snoring surgery can correct the problem. (7) An example of a possible surgery is a septoplasty, to correct a deviated septum.
- Anti-snore devices/mouthpieces. There are several wearable devices on the market that help lift your jaw forward or stabilize your tongue to prevent it from obstructing your airway. (8) These include chinstraps. mandibular advancement devices (MAD), and tongue retaining devices (TRD) or tongue stabilizing devices (TSD). There are even pillows out there that claim to help with snoring. Learn about other solutions including top anti-snoring devices and mouthpieces and mouth guard reviews.
Treatment of Snoring and Sleep Apnea
The mask, which generally covers the nose, is worn during sleep. It applies a set pressure of air into the lungs, keeping the tissues in the airway from collapsing, allowing the air to flow smoothly.
Unfortunately, some patients with sleep apnea find it difficult to sleep while wearing a CPAP machine due to comfort or claustrophobia. If this is the case for you and comfort is the problem, you may be able to try another kind of mask or device. If it’s due to claustrophobia, talk to your sleep doctor to help you find a solution.
For some people unable to tolerate CPAP, a mouth guard and a plan for weight loss may be the next treatment.
As mentioned, a CPAP machine is a treatment for sleep apnea and isn’t generally needed for someone without sleep apnea that only snores.
Other Treatment Options for Snoring:
There are other ways to treat snoring, some of which include just making lifestyle changes.
If you snore, it will help tremendously to identify the cause of why you’re snoring so you know which treatment will help to correct it.
If either you or your partner thinks that you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to speak with a doctor. You may need further testing, such as a sleep study. Sleep studies are often done in sleep clinics where professionals can monitor your breathing and blood-oxygen levels. There are also at-home sleep studies being given.
Even if it’s not sleep apnea, you may still want to treat your snoring. You might just get a better night’s sleep and your partner will thank you for it.
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