Snoring is bothersome to others, but it can also be a sign of a more serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, which is present in three percent of the general population.
It is the sound you make when your breathing is blocked while you are asleep. The sound is caused by tissues at the top of your airway that strike each other and vibrate. Snoring is common, especially among older people and people who are overweight.
When severe, snoring can cause frequent awakenings at night and daytime sleepiness. It can disrupt your bed partner’s sleep. Snoring can also be a sign of a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. You should see your health care provider if you are often tired during the day, don’t feel that you sleep well, or wake up gasping.
To reduce snoring
- Lose weight if you are overweight. It may help,
but thin people can snore, too.
- Cut down or avoid alcohol and other sedatives at
- Don’t sleep flat on your back
National Institute on Aging
Causes Of Snoring
When you sleep, the muscles in your throat relax and your
tongue slips back in your mouth. Snoring occurs when something blocks air from
flowing freely through your mouth and nose. When you breathe, the walls of your
throat vibrate, causing the sound of snoring.
There are several factors that can lead to snoring,
- Being overweight. The extra tissue in your neck puts pressure on your airways.
- Tissue swelling during the last month of pregnancy.
- Crooked or bent nasal septum, which is the wall of bone and cartilage between your nostrils.
- Growths in your nasal passages (nasal polyps).
- Stuffy nose from a cold or allergies.
- Swelling in the roof of your mouth (soft palate) or the uvula, the piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of your mouth. These areas may also be longer than normal.
- Swollen adenoids and tonsils that block the airways. This is a common cause of snoring in children.
- A tongue that is wider at the base, or a larger tongue in a smaller mouth.
- Poor muscle tone. This may be caused by aging or by using sleeping pills, antihistamines, or alcohol at bedtime.
Sometimes snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder called
- This occurs when you completely or partly stop
breathing for more than 10 seconds while you sleep.
- This is followed by a sudden snort or gasp when
you start breathing again. During that time you wake up without realizing it.
- Then you start to snore again.
- This cycle usually happens many times a night,
which makes it hard to sleep deeply.
Sleep apnea can make it especially hard for your bed partner
to get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue
Snoring isn’t harmful and can be left untreated with no ill
effects, although sometimes a person can snore so loudly that they constantly
wake themselves during the night and this can lead to long-term sleep
deprivation and fatigue. Snoring has also been known to put strain on a
marriage, since the spouse is regularly denied a good night’s sleep and may
move to another room.
Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea
In some cases, snoring is part of obstructive sleep apnoea.
This occurs when the walls of the throat come together during sleep and block
the airway between the voice box and the back of the nose. After a few seconds,
the sleeper makes a strong breathing effort and restarts breathing. A person
with this disorder might wake up hundreds of times every night. Treatments are
The typical snorer
Snoring is more likely when you have a cold, sinusitis or
some other reason for a stuffy nose. Snoring is more common when you sleep on
your back. Habitual night-time snorers, however, tend to share certain
characteristics. The typical snorer is:
- Aged between 30 and 65 years
- May have high blood pressure
- May be told that snoring is worse with alcohol
and with a cold.
Home Care For Snoring and Sleep Apnea
To help reduce snoring:
- Avoid alcohol and medicines that make you sleepy
- DO NOT sleep flat on your back. Try to sleep on
your side instead. You can sew a golf or tennis ball into the back of your
night clothes. If you roll over, the pressure of the ball will help remind you
to stay on your side. Over time, side sleeping will become a habit.
- Lose weight, if you are overweight.
- Try over-the-counter, drug-free nasal strips that
help widen the nostrils. (These are not treatments for sleep apnea.)
If your health care provider has given you a breathing
device, use it on a regular basis. Follow your provider’s advice for treating
What Are the Symptoms of snoring and obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Symptoms associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea can include:
- Loud snoring
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Waking up gasping or choking
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Frequent night time urination
- Morning headache
- Irritability, mood changes, depression,
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or other
What Are the Treatment Options?
Heavy snorers—people who snore constantly in any position or who negatively impact a bed partner’s sleep—should seek medical advice to ensure that sleep apnea is not a problem. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate, and neck, often using a fiberoptic scope. An examination can reveal if the snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, nasal obstruction, or enlargement of tonsils and adenoids. A sleep study in a laboratory or at home may be necessary to determine if snoring is due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is most often treated with a device
that opens the airway with a small amount of positive pressure. This pressure
is delivered by an appliance through either the nose and/or mouth that is worn
during sleep. This treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure, or
CPAP, and it is currently the initial treatment of choice for patients with Obstructive
Sleep Apnea. The challenge of treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea is that
obstruction can occur at multiple levels of the airway.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure stabilizes pressure at
all parts of the upper airway and can be very effective, but some wearers
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and must seek other
A custom-fit oral appliance, which repositions the lower jaw
forward, may also be considered for certain patients with snoring and sleep
apnea. This should be fitted by an ENT specialist, dentist, or oral surgeon
with expertise in sleep dentistry. In some patients, significant weight loss can
also improve snoring and sleep apnea.
There are numerous surgical treatments for snoring/Sleep
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a plastic
surgery of the throat involving tissue repositioning, or removal of excess soft
tissue, to open the airway. In addition, the remaining tissue stiffens as it
heals, helping to minimize tissue vibration. A tonsillectomy can also help
enlarge the airway.
- Thermal ablation procedures reduce tissue bulk
in the nasal turbinates (structures on the side wall of the inside of the
nose), tongue base, and/or soft palate. These procedures are used for both
snoring and Sleep Apnea, and several treatments may be required.
- The soft palate may be stiffened by inserting
stiffening rods into the soft palate, or by injecting an irritating substance
that causes stiffness in the injected area near the uvula.
- “Hypoglossal nerve stimulator” technology
implants a tongue pacemaker, which stiffens and projects the tongue forward
during sleep. Other procedures may be used to surgically target tongue muscles
or the boney configuration of the midface.
When to Call the Doctor
Talk to your provider if you:
- Have problems with attention, concentration, or
- Wake up in the morning not feeling rested
- Feel very drowsy during the day
- Have morning headaches
- Gain weight
- Tried self-care for snoring, and it has not
You should also talk with your provider if you have episodes
of no breathing (apnea) during the night. Your partner can tell you if you are
snoring loudly or making choking and gasping sounds.
Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your snoring, your provider may refer you to a sleep specialist.
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