"Best for Snoring" ~ Sleep Foundation

"Best for Snoring" ~ Sleep Foundation

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What Causes Snoring?

  • 5 min read
Woman grimacing with pillow over her head while husband snores

Snoring can be caused by a myriad of things, from the shape of our bodies to the things we put in them and the things we put near them. The causes may be different for men, women and children. The problem may come at different ages and at different times.

But researchers continue to study snoring and have come up with many observations and conclusions to explain what causes snoring.

What causes snoring?

Physical Structure around the Airways

The mouth, nose, throat and tongue have to cooperate to keep you from snoring. If one of them malfunctions, you can have a snoring problem.

A soft, thick palate can narrow your airway. So can extra tissue in the back of your throat. The triangular tissue called uvula that hangs from the soft palate can also obstruct the flow of air.

Deformities in the cartilage of your nose can be the problem. The cartilage can be crooked. A deviated septum can lead to chronic snoring.

And probably the most common cause of snoring is the tongue muscle that relaxes during sleep, falling back into the throat to block the airway.

The problem with the tongue blockage is more prevalent when you sleep on your back. Changing body positions can often – but not always – mitigate the problem.  If you suffer from chronic snoring and you wonder, "what causes snoring?” the first step to alleviate snoring would be to change body positions.

A thick neck will put pressure on the airways, constricting the muscles and tissues surrounding the airway. Obesity has been found to be a major cause of snoring.

Food, Drink and Medication

Alcohol contributes to snoring by relaxing the muscles in the back of the throat. Alcohol should not be taken in great quantity or within several hours of bedtime.

Large meals before bedtime can also cause snoring. Sedatives including muscle relaxants can cause the throat tissues to collapse. Prolonged use of tobacco products will also cause snoring.

Allergies are another source. Allergens and allergy medications along with the associated nasal congestion can increase snoring. Your body is less resistant to allergens during sleep and less capable of compensating for swollen nasal passages than it is when you are awake.

Caffeine from coffee, tea or other source is a stimulant and should be avoided at bedtime.

Breathing Disorders

Many breathing disorders contribute to what causes snoring.  Snoring is very much associated with a sleeping disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) where breathing is interrupted – or stopped completely – during sleep.

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition and if untreated can be fatal.

OSA often is a disease that is characterized by alternate periods of quiet breathing, loud snoring, and frequent stops or near stops. The snorer wakes possibly wakes in a panic state gasping for breath.

The stoppage of breathing can cause an associated stoppage of heart activity for a brief period before restarting. This can occur several times during the night.

Research has shown that habitual snorers are linked to sleep apnea at a fairly high rate (1 in 3 for men and 1 in 5 for women). Sleep apnea has been linked to a number of diseases including hypertension, diabetes, and heart failure.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Snoring is more likely to happen when sleep hygiene is ignored and conditions for good sleep are minimal or ignored. Electronic devices like cell phones, tablets and TVs stimulate the senses and interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm that expects you to go to sleep.

Any kind of light does the same thing. Sounds will also send signals to the brain that it is not time for sleep. Most sounds in the environment are not rhythmic and are therefore not conducive to sleep.

The bedroom or sleep area should also support good sleep hygiene and comfort. The bed and mattress should be comfortable. Some research has shown that a saggy mattress can be an overlooked source of snoring.

Students and adult workers have busy daytime lives, including many with family interaction .This high level of activity can interfere with sleep and cause snoring. There should be some ramping down of this level and a time of relaxation before bedtime to reassure those natural body clocks that you are indeed thinking about sleep.

Working and studying for long hours can lead to sleep deprivation – which can further lead to sleep disorders and snoring. Jet lagis another situation that can throw off your circadian rhythms and lead to snoring.

The Special Snoring Problems of Women

Women may suffer more from snoring than is reported simply because the problem is often misdiagnosed among many other issues women also face. Some estimates have the figure at 90% of women who have the problem of snoring and/or sleep apnea who do not have it diagnosed as such.

While men snore at an earlier age, women tend to snore more significantly later in life, especially after menopause.

Obesity is a problem for women as well, being a leading cause of sleep apnea. Women with sleep disturbance have been shown to have a higher Body Mass Index than men with the same problem.

There seems to be a connection between obesity and hypothyroidism which can compress the airway and influence OSA.

What causes snoring to be different for females? Female hormones may actually inhibit snoring, having a positive effect on upper airway muscles. Testosterone, on the other hand, has a negative effect, increasing the chance of snoring and sleep apnea.

The exception would be the effects of sexual hormones where snoring and sleep apnea can increase after menopause and during pregnancy.

Snoring in Children

Snoring in a child may be due to large tonsils and adenoids. Tonsillectomies have been performed to reduce or remove tonsilsto help children with breathing disorders.

Genetics also play a part in whether children may or may not snore. One study found that infants have a higher risk of becoming snorers if their parents were snorers. The study showed that in these cases, 20% of mothers and 46% of fathers were chronic snorers.

Children who were tested for possible development of asthma or allergies were also found to be more at risk for snoring.

What is of additional concern is the finding that childhood snoring has been associated with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as other learning disabilities.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea can be especially dangerous for children because it is harder to detect and presents unique challenges for treatment.

There you have it, six simple solutions to explain what causes snoring.  Whatever the age, whatever the gender, whatever the cause, anyone with a snoring problem is advised to seek professional consultation because it’s a symptom of a problem or set of problems that can have life-threatening consequences.

Check out our article to learn about some practical tips and tricks to stop snoring.