Snoring is the sound of the airway being partially obstructed during sleep. Although snoring in and of itself may not pose a direct health threat to the snorer, snoring is often a sign of more serious sleep issues.
There are four stages of healthy sleep, and snoring can occur during any of the four stages. The first stage is the transition from being awake to being asleep. This leads into the second stage, light sleep, where further muscle relaxation occurs. The third stage of sleep is deep sleep, which is required in order to feel like you have actually rested. REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is when you dream and when your body reaches the fullest muscle relaxation.1
As you fall asleep, your muscles relax relative to the tension you naturally carry while awake. This relaxation causes the soft tissues of the mouth and throat to droop into the airways.2 The sound we call snoring is those tissues being vibrated by incoming and outgoing air, similar to how a flag makes sound when flapping in the wind.
Even if the only issue with snoring was its sound, this alone would make it a problem for anyone that shares a bedroom with a snorer. Snoring can wake or keep awake a loved one, leading to sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, snoring causes or is associated with a number of adverse conditions like frustration, daytime sleepiness, cardiovascular problems, and even learning difficulties in children with obstructive sleep apnea.3
The partial airway obstruction that we identify as snoring can actually become a complete, albeit temporary, obstruction. Known as sleep apnea, the momentary cessation of breathing while sleeping can be very dangerous. Obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of a number of cardiovascular problems, can exacerbate metabolic syndrome, and amplifies the daytime grogginess and irritability that can occur with snoring.4
Alcohol consumption relaxes your throat muscles, sometimes enough to lead to snoring. The physiological changes to the airways brought about by an increased body mass index can also increase the risk of snoring.5
Some snoring causes are not amenable to behavioral changes. Being male, for example, increases the risk of snoring. Inherited congenital airway structure also can increase the risk of snoring.
Fortunately, there are a number of therapeutic interventions that make for effective snoring solutions. CPAP, BiPAP, and oral appliances have all been found to greatly reduce snoring.
There are a number of snoring causes, some of which can be addressed immediately, and others which may require more comprehensive lifestyle changes. Changing the position you adopt while sleeping, either sleeping on your side or on your back, may reduce snoring.6 Cutting or eliminating alcohol consumption can be a snoring remedy. Weight loss is also effective for reducing snoring;7 however, the timescales involved means that there will be a significant lag between lifestyle changes and snoring reduction.
Snoring frequency seems to increase during REM sleep,8 or rapid eye movement sleep. There are two stages of sleep which are considered deep sleep,9 during which your muscles relax and even become temporarily paralyzed. This relaxation of muscles can cause you to snore.
There are a number implementations of stop snoring devices, but there are two types which have been shown to be effective.
Oral appliances draw the lower jaw forward in order to prevent the soft tissues of the throat from blocking the airway. Oral appliances have been shown to be effective at reducing or stopping snoring.10 Taking the form of two form-fitted mouth guards that are attached to each other, oral appliances are sometimes referred to as snore guards.
Positive airway pressure devices, like CPAP machines and BiPAP machines, are also very effective snoring guards. This class of sleeping equipment provides slightly pressurized air directly to the airways. The small increase in pressure prevents the soft tissues of the mouth and throat from obstructing airflow, helping to reduce snoring.
The immediate cause of snoring is that the soft tissues of the throat and mouth are obstructing airflow. There are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of the airway being obstructed by soft tissues, some of which are congenital. The inherited structure of the airway may increase the risk of snoring. Alcohol use increases the risk of snoring as well, and having a high body mass index also increases the risk of snoring.
Sharing a bedroom with someone that snores can be difficult. Of course, the fact that they are asleep while they are snoring forces them to rely on your word when it comes to whether or not they snore. If they are unconvinced by your attestation to the fact that they snore, you can use a smartphone to record them overnight.
There are also snoring-specific smartphone apps that can provide an easy to review visual representation of the amount of sound created overnight. Make sure to connect your phone to a power source before starting the recording to make sure not to deplete the battery overnight.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.