What causes snoring?

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What happens when you snore?

Snoring occurs when muscles in the roof of your mouth, your tongue and the back of your throat relax.1 As you drift off to sleep, they fall back towards your throat. Everyone’s neck muscles relax during sleep, but sometimes they relax so much that the upper airway partly closes and becomes too narrow for enough air to travel through to the lungs. As the airway narrows the more forceful the airflow becomes. This increases the vibration causing the snoring to become louder and louder. Despite snoring being really LOUD, you’re most likely completely unaware of the sound you’re making.

Why do people snore?

Why do some people snore and others don’t? Those who have enlarged tonsils, an enlarged tongue or excess weight around the neck are more prone to snoring. And structural reasons like the shape of your nose or jaw can also cause snoring. The snoring sound itself is a result of the narrowing of a person’s airway, which causes a throat vibration and the snoring sound.

Increased nasal congestion or sinus problems are also known to cause snoring. Allergies, smoking, colds and flu, and narrow nasal walls can all contribute to snoring. In some cases, medical treatment such as nasal sprays or allergy management may be helpful.

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Things that make snoring more likely include 2
overweight
Being overweight
Snoring is more common in people who are overweight or obese. Carrying extra fatty tissue, especially around the neck area, can increase the restriction of your airway when the muscles in your throat relax.
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Being a man
Although both men and women snore, men are more likely to snore because of the way they’re built. Men have narrower air passages so they’re more likely to become restricted when they sleep.
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Growing older
As we grow older we tend to lose muscle tone, including in the upper airway. Snoring is a common sleep problem for older people and can be a symptom of sleep apnea.
alcohol
Alcohol
That nice glass of wine or beer at night could be making your snoring worse as alcohol makes your muscles relax more than usual during a normal night’s sleep.
medication
Medications
In a cruel twist of fate taking sleeping tablets or sedatives to help you sleep can also make snoring worse as the medication causes muscles to relax further.
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Hormonal changes
Post-menopausal women have lower levels of oestrogen, which helps with muscle tone. Losing oestrogen means softer muscles, including in the upper airways.

Snoring and sleep apnea

Snoring and sleep apnea (also spelt apnoea) are linked at an alarming rate – three in 10 men and nearly two in 10 women who are habitual snorers suffer from some degree of obstructive sleep apnea. 3 Sleep apnea prevents you from getting the healthy sleep you need to lead a refreshed, energetic life. So regardless of what is specifically causing snoring for you, if you snore — or if you suspect you snore — consider it a sign that something might not be right.

Snoring in pregnancy 

If you’ve started snoring during your pregnancy, it’s probably because pregnancy hormones are causing nasal congestion. Then, in the later stages of pregnancy, your baby presses on your diaphragm which can also increase breathing problems when you sleep. After your baby is born, things should go back to normal (snoring-wise anyway!). 4

When to see your doctor

Home remedies may help with your snoring but if this doesn’t work for you, or if you’re worried about the effect snoring is having on your sleeping or your health, it’s time to seek professional help. 5

Don’t ignore that snore.

Learn how to stop snoring so you can get back to healthier sleep.

Sleep assessment

If you feel like this sounds like you, then it’s time to look at the cause of your snoring and start seeking a solution.

Take sleep assessment

Frequently Asked Questions

Do adenoids cause snoring?

Enlarged adenoids can be the cause of snoring in both adults and children. Adenoids are mounds of tissue in the back of the nose. Adenoids are removed through surgery under general anaesthesia. Some people find that this procedure can help with their snoring.6,7

Does smoking cause snoring?

Smoking can increase your risk of snoring. A large clinical study found that 24% of smokers snored regularly and loudly compared to 14% of people who never smoked. Even living with a smoker can increase your risk of snoring. Smoking may induce snoring by causing irritation in your nose and throat. 8,9

Citations

2

Source: Gulia KK, Kumar VM. Psychogeriatrics. 2018 May;18(3):155-165. 

3

Source: Young T et al. N Engl J Med 1993; 328(17):1230–5

9

Source: Bloom JW et al. Chest. 1988 Apr;93(4):678-83.