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What Are the Common Causes of Snoring?

Why do people snore? Is it okay to snore? Is there a way to stop it? Here’s what you should know about the common causes of snoring. 


If your bed partner’s snoring sounds like a freight train, should you be concerned? While some may think the sound of snoring is funny or annoying, it can actually indicate a more serious health issue. That’s why it’s important to know the common causes of snoring, so you can do something about it if needed.

What Causes Snoring?

Snoring is the noise made by turbulent airflow. You don’t snore when you are awake, so what changes in sleep? When you sleep, the muscles in your throat lose tone and relax. Since your lungs stay the same size, you have to get the same volume of air through a smaller space. When air flows past your relaxed throat tissues and vibrates, the harsh, raspy noise that results is known as snoring. It can simply be caused by the anatomy of your mouth, throat, and sinuses. But snoring can also be due to a cold, allergies, alcohol consumption, being overweight, or sleeping on your back. Thirty-seven million people admit they snore regularly. More men (42%) than women (31%) say they are snorers.

Reasons for Snoring:

  • The back of your throat—known as the soft palate—can narrow your airway if it’s low and thick. People who are overweight may also have narrowed airways. Additionally, having a long uvula—the triangle shaped piece of flesh hanging from the back of your throat—can obstruct air, causing snoring.
  • Drinking alcohol before bed relaxes your throat muscles and may reduce airflow and increase vibration.
  • A cold, sinus problem, or allergies can cause snoring by blocking air flow.
  • Being overtired can cause the airways to relax more deeply, producing the noisy vibration.
  • Sleeping on your back causes your airways to narrow due to gravity. 

Are There Any Other Reasons People Snore?

Aside from those reasons mentioned above, some people become snorers as they age because their throat and tongue muscles weaken. Likewise, certain medications can relax those muscles and lead to snoring. Pregnant women may be prone to snoring towards the end of pregnancy, when hormones surge and cause nose tissues to swell. A crooked nasal septum or deviated septum— where the cartilage wall between the nostrils is off center—can also cause snoring.


When Is Snoring a Sign of Something More Serious?

Snoring may be linked with a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Not everyone who snores has OSA, but if you have additional symptoms such as paused breathing during sleep, restless sleep, chest pain, gasping or choking at night, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, or memory problems, talk to your health care provider about your snoring.


What Can You Do About Snoring?

You can alleviate some causes of snoring with certain lifestyle changes. If, for example, you snore after having a glass of wine or two in the evening, try skipping it or drinking it earlier, and seeing if that works to end the snoring. If you carry excess weight, especially in the neck area, try losing weight to allow your airways to open up more. If you snore while sleeping on your back, try changing sleep positions or raising your head on a pillow.


If none of these changes seems to work or your snoring gets louder or more frequent, talk with your healthcare provider, who can evaluate your symptoms and may order a home sleep test (HST) or an overnight laboratory sleep study for further analysis. They can also examine whether the anatomy of your mouth, throat, or nasal septum might be causing your snoring. If so, surgery may be another option. Again, talk with your healthcare provider to explore the best possible approach for you.


Since snoring sometimes has negative health consequences, don’t just laugh it off. If you or your bed partner is a chronic snorer, find out if it’s a sign of a more serious medical condition and get the treatment you may need.