Nearly everyone snores at least occasionally, and many adults snore regularly. Snoring occurs when the soft tissues in a person’s nose or throat vibrate as they breathe. Depending on the severity of the snoring, it can produce sounds that range from soft rasping to loud snorting.
Snoring can be harmless, aside from its potential to disrupt the sleep of bed partners or roommates. That said, snoring also may be a sign of one or more potentially serious health conditions. We discuss what causes snoring, when to talk to your doctor about snoring, and measures you can take to reduce snoring.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring happens when the amount of air being pulled through the upper airway exceeds the maximum capacity of the posterior nasopharynx. This produces a phenomenon known as “turbulence,” or uneven flow, and the resulting vibration creates noise. In some cases, snoring is simply the result of gravity pushing the tongue into the throat after a person falls asleep and their muscles relax. Other indirect causes of snoring include:
- Polyps in the nose
- Nasal congestion
- Fatty tissue in the neck
- Damage to the bone or cartilage that separates the nostrils
- Swelling in the structures of the mouth or throat, such as the uvula, tonsils, or adenoids
- Anatomical abnormalities in the nose, throat, or mouth
Some people are at increased risk of snoring, including older individuals and males or people assigned male at birth. Obesity, allergies, and pregnancy also make it more likely that a person will snore.
Is Snoring Bad For You?
Snoring may not be anything to worry about, but as snoring becomes more frequent or louder, it has greater potential to negatively affect your health and quality of life.
Not only can snoring disrupt other people’s sleep, but it can also cause you to wake up more frequently. In addition to causing daytime tiredness, low-quality sleep can increase your risk of having a car or occupational accident, make you more susceptible to illness and infection, and contribute to the development of heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Snoring—especially snoring that is regular—can also be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Snoring is associated with:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Plaque buildup in the carotid artery
When Should I Be Concerned About Snoring?
It’s worth talking to your doctor if snoring causes you to wake up feeling unrefreshed, especially if you’ve taken measures to reduce snoring that haven’t worked.
It’s also important to see a healthcare provider if your snoring is accompanied by symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a disorder that causes repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. Some signs to look out for are:
- Loud snoring, punctuated by silences that end in gasping or snorting
- Daytime tiredness
- Headaches in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
- Memory problems
- New onset of high blood pressure
- Teeth grinding or clenching
Can Snoring Be Treated?
It is possible to reduce, if not eliminate, snoring. There are many possible measures you can take to limit snoring, ranging from home remedies to oral appliances to surgery. The cause of the snoring and its severity can help determine which measures are most appropriate and effective.
- Change your sleeping position: Back sleeping increases the likelihood of snoring, so sleeping on your side—or even just turning your head to one side—may help reduce snoring.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco: Alcohol and smoking can both contribute to snoring, so experts recommend that you avoid both.
- Use nasal strips: Over-the-counter adhesive strips hold the nostrils open, which may decrease the frequency and intensity of snoring.
- Try upper airway exercises: Regularly performing exercises that target the mouth, throat, and face may improve snoring. These exercises are typically taught by a specialist called a myofunctional therapist.
- Lose weight: If you are overweight or obese, you are likely to snore less if you lose weight.
- Reduce congestion: For short-term sinus infections, irrigating your nose with saline solution or using a decongestant spray may help reduce snoring. If you experience long-term congestion, you might benefit from using a nasal steroid spray.
- Use an oral appliance: A dentist can fit you for a device that moves your tongue and jaw forward, ensuring that your airway stays open while you sleep.
- Use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine: These devices, which deliver pressurized air through a face mask, are commonly used to treat OSA and typically eliminate snoring in this population.
- Discuss surgical options with your doctor: If your snoring is severe and other measures to control it fail, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove tissue from your airway.