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What are the common reasons for snoring?

 What are the common reasons for snoring?

Most people will snore at some point in their life. According to the British Snoring Association, approximately 15 million people habitually snore in the UK1. This translates to 10.4 million adult males and 4.5 million adult females, with men often snoring louder than women2.

Snoring – or indeed living with someone who snores – can be hugely disruptive to your sleep hygiene. Snoring can fragment sleep, impairing daytime functioning and adversely impacting mood.

Snoring is also symptomatic of sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder characterised by lapses in breathing during sleep. This condition is widely known to diminish sleep quality and lead to other health problems without proper treatment.

There are many reasons for snoring: alcohol consumption, smoking, sleeping in certain positions, anatomy, or weight. Understanding and identifying your individual cause of snoring will shed light on the steps to manage it.

Here, we take a closer look at what causes snoring.


What is snoring?

When you fall asleep, the muscles in your neck relax. Your throat narrows, and your tongue falls back. Occasionally, however, the muscles of your neck relax too much, which narrows the airway. As air flows past these relaxed tissues, the walls of your throat start to vibrate, producing the characteristic sound of snoring. The narrower your airway, the more intense the vibration, and louder you will snore.
A partial or total blockage of your airway can lead to interruptions in your breathing during sleep. When this happens, your body doesn’t receive enough oxygen needed to perform its biological functions. As a result, the brain wakes the body up, causing you to rouse without realising it.

This explains why you often wake unrested and groggy after a night of snoring; you didn’t achieve a full seven to nine hours of unbroken, quality sleep.


What are the common causes of snoring?


Sleep apnoea

Caused by a partial or complete collapse of the airway, sleep apnoea is characterised by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Individuals with sleep apnoea often snore loudly with lapses of silence when breathing stops. These pauses in breathing fragment sleep and can lead to poor physical and emotional health outcomes.

Fortunately, with the correct treatment, including lifestyle changes, dental devices, positive airway pressure, and surgery, most people can effectively manage symptoms.


Age

From middle age, your throat narrows in size and its muscle tone decreases, contributing to snoring. Although you can’t fight the natural ageing process, healthy lifestyle changes and good sleep hygiene can help promote better breathing at night.


Alcohol and sedatives

Alcohol and sedatives relax the muscles in your throat, leading to blockages in the air passages and making snoring more likely. To manage snoring, try to reduce your alcohol consumption before bed and talk to your GP about any prescription medication that may have a sedative effect on the body.


Smoking

Experts are still unsure why smoking causes snoring, but some theories suggest it may result from upper airway inflammation3. Smoking cessation is often associated with a reduction in snoring, although it can take some time.


Snoring and weight

If you’re overweight, you may have extra tissue at the back of your neck, which can narrow the airway and contribute to snoring. One study reported that men who lost around six pounds found they snored less, with increased weight loss almost eliminating snoring altogether4. In some instances, losing weight and exercising might be all you need to reduce snoring.


Sleeping position

Sleeping on your back often causes snoring because your airway is more likely to collapse due to gravity shifting the tissues in your throat and obstructing airflow. Evidence suggests sleeping on your side – also known as the lateral position – may be just what you need to sleep better and breathe properly5.


Chronic nasal congestion

Chronic nasal congestion – commonly caused by infection or allergies – can make you more susceptible to snoring since it reduces airflow through the airways6.

Taking the necessary steps to manage your underlying allergies and congestion will help you breathe better at night. Consider washing your sheets and regularly hovering, using an air filter in your bedroom, or taking over-the-counter antihistamines or nasal steroids.


The anatomy of your mouth and nose

Some people naturally have a narrower airway due to the anatomy of their mouth and nose. Having a thick, soft palate, large adenoids (glands located at the top of the mouth) or tonsils, or an elongated uvula (the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate) may cause snoring.

Deviated septum snoring is especially common7. This occurs when the wall between your nostrils is misaligned and restricts airflow.

Treatment options for people with an anatomical cause of snoring typically include dental devices or surgery.


Is snoring a sign of bad health?

Snoring occasionally doesn’t usually signal bad health. However, habitually snoring can disrupt your sleeping patterns and those around you. Snoring can also be symptomatic of sleep apnoea, which requires specialist treatment as it can adversely affect your long-term health.


What kind of doctor should I see for snoring?

If your snoring is accompanied by excessive daytime fatigue, headaches, or mood changes, such as anxiety, stress, or depression, you should see your GP. Your doctor will discuss various treatment options with you or may even refer you to a dentist for a mouth appliance or surgeon if surgery is needed.

Snoring is more than just a nuisance; it can negatively affect your sleep quality and that of those around you. Taking the necessary steps to improve your breathing at night will support your sleep and help you wake refreshed. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple, effective snoring solutions available.

Want to discover more guidance on sleeping soundly? Feel free to explore the rest of our Sleep Health Hub.
 



References:

  1. British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association. (2019). Available online: https://britishsnoring.co.uk/media.php
  2. British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association. (2019). Available online: https://britishsnoring.co.uk/media.php
  3. Bloom JW, Kaltenborn WT, Quan SF. (1988) Risk factors in a general population for snoring. Importance of cigarette smoking and obesity. Chest. 93(4): 678-83.
  4. Braver HM, Block AJ, Perri MG. (1995) Treatment for snoring. Combined weight loss, sleeping on side, and nasal spray. Chest. 107(5): 1283-8. 
  5. Nakano H, Ikeda T, Hayashi M, Ohshima E, Onizuka A. (2003) Effects of body position on snoring in apneic and nonapneic snorers. Sleep. 26 (2): 169-72.
  6. MSD Manual Professional Edition. 2021. Nasal Congestion and Rhinorrhea - Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders - MSD Manual Professional Edition. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/professional/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/approach-to-the-patient-with-nasal-and-pharyngeal-symptoms/nasal-congestion-and-rhinorrhea
  7. Dzieciolowska-Baran E, Gawlikowska-Sroka A, Czerwinski F. (2009) Snoring - the role of the laryngologist in diagnosing and treating its causes. Eur J Med Res. 14 Suppl 4(Suppl 4): 67-70.   


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Our Author - Olivia Salter

Olivia

Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.

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