Snoring can either be a nuisance, or it can point to a more serious underlying issue. In fact, the source of the snoring itself can be a strong indicator of other sleep issues. What makes you snore is when soft tissues in your mouth and throat relax and partially block the passage of air.
When we are awake, keeping our airways free from obstructions is straightforward and automatic. After falling asleep, our muscles relax, and the muscles that keep our airways clear can relax to the point that the path of air becomes obstructed. The obstructing soft tissue moves to allow air to pass, but also springs back into position, leading to an audible vibration. Like a trumpet player forcing air through their lips to create a sound, the soft tissues of the throat can make a lot of noise when they disrupt airflow. We call this sound “snoring”.
If you’ve ever been awakened by a snorer, you may have heard the snoring increase in loudness and then abruptly stop, followed by the snorer stirring. What is happening is the soft tissues are completely stopping airflow, and the sleeper actually stops breathing temporarily. This is called obstructive sleep apnea, and has been linked to a host of quality-of-life issues and health problems.
While the immediate or proximal cause of snoring is an obstructed airway, there are a number of risk factors that increase the chances of this happening. Men are more likely to be snorers than women. Being overweight increases your risk of snoring. Alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, so being under the influence of alcohol increases your chances of snoring. There are also congenital or structural issues, like a deviated nasal septum, that increase the chances of snoring.
If you exhibit any of the risk factors for snoring, for the most part you will also be showing obstructive sleep apnea risk factors. Considering that the dangers of sleep apnea include stroke, heart failure, and glaucoma1, it is important to reduce any risk factors for snoring. In addition, snorers should consider the possibility that they suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
Being overweight is a risk factor for snoring, but this does not mean that people that are not overweight do not snore. Some snoring causes, like having a deviated septum or using alcohol, are independent of body mass index. A low body mass index makes you less likely to snore, but that does not mean that people who are thin do not snore.
If you want to know for sure if you are snoring, a smartphone or other recording device can help determine for certain if you are a snorer. Simply record yourself overnight and review the audio the following morning. Of course, if you share a room with another person, you might have to sleep separately one night to isolate the source of the snoring. There are also specific smartphone apps that make the process of reviewing the audio easier by providing a visual representation of the sound profile of an entire night’s sleep.2
No. Snoring is at best a neutral sign, but it is never a good sign to snore. Snoring may lead to frequent waking during sleep, leading to all the issues that come with sleep deprivation. Many snoring causes are also obstructive sleep apnea causes3, and the consequences of obstructive sleep apnea include increased risk of heart failure and stroke. Snoring might point to serious health issues, so it should never be taken as a good sign.
Since what makes you snore is an obstructed airway, devices that help prevent your airway from becoming obstructed can help with snoring. Reviews of dental appliances for snoring, sometimes termed “stop snoring devices”, have found that even though there are many different designs, many reduce or even eliminate snoring.4
While sleeping, if your throat muscles relax past a certain point you may begin to snore. The reason this begins at one point in the night versus another may reflect the level of muscle relaxation or posture. As for why someone begins habitually snoring, lifestyle changes such as increased body fat or alcohol use can increase the risk of snoring.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.