Have you ever slept in the same room with a big snorer and thought, “how is it physically possible that such a loud noise can come from this unconscious person?” Or maybe, as a snorer yourself, you’ve been confronted with this question by a partner, sibling, or roommate. Perhaps you’ve even been relegated to the couch in the living room on account of your nighttime serenades.
Snoring is one of the few sleeping conditions that has more of a negative effect on the people around the sleeper than on the sleeper themselves. But can it be more than just a reason to buy some earplugs? And what causes it in the first place?
Read on for the answer to all of these questions, as well as information on how to keep these nocturnal noises down to a minimum.
What is snoring?
Despite how it sounds, snoring is not the work of tiny construction crews using a jackhammer inside of one’s head.
Instead, the intense groaning sounds are the result of vibrations in the throat as we breathe while sleeping. These vibrations occur when muscles in the throat relax to the point that airflow becomes partially impeded. Forcing air between the narrow, relaxed airway causes the fluttering, noisy vibrations we call snoring.
The “heaviness” of snoring can vary from person to person, and even change throughout the night for a single sleeper. The intensity of the noise depends on several factors relating to the underlying causes of why tissues in the throat relax.
What causes snoring?
So why do snore in the first place? There are tons of different reasons why we snore. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the things that predispose us to snore include:
- The shape of your mouthparts: Certain anatomical features, like an elongated uvula, thicker or softer palates, or extra tissue in the back of your mouth can increase airway constriction in the night. The more constriction that occurs, the likelier it is that you’ll snore.
- Problems with your nose: If you suffer from a deviated septum, or have chronic congestion, you are more likely to snore at night.
- Throat anatomy: Some people are more predisposed to snoring due to features of their natural throat anatomy. Having large adenoids or tonsils makes you especially vulnerable.
- Being overweight: Obesity has been linked to snoring, and more seriously, obstructive sleep apnea.
- Being male: For some reason, men are much more likely to be snorers than women.
- Having snoring in your genes: There is some evidence that it is hereditary; having a relative that is a snorer greatly increases the chances that you will be too.
All of these traits essentially increase the chance that our airways will become partially constricted in the night due to throat muscle relaxation. Almost all of these factors can’t be helped, though there is some evidence that weight loss helps reduce snoring in certain overweight individuals (but not all).
However, there are a myriad of other factors that increase our chances of snoring. WebMD lists the most common three behaviors that cause it as:
- Consuming alcohol and/or taking drugs: Alcohol and certain drugs can cause your airway to relax excessively during sleep.
- Not getting enough sleep (being sleep deprived): Your muscles tend to relax more than normal when you sleep after not being well-rested.
- Sleeping in certain positions: Experts say sleeping on your back is more likely to induce snoring than other sleep positions.
Is it dangerous?
If you snore every once in a while, for one of the above reasons, usually you won’t suffer any negative health outcomes. Although your partner may lose some sleep, snoring every now and then isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, snoring in itself is not much of a problem at all.
However, chronic, long-term snoring can be indicative of a much more serious condition. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder characterized by intermittent closures of the airway during sleep. Extremely loud and rhythmic snoring is one of the main symptoms of OSA; snoring, under those circumstances, becomes progressively louder and louder until a sleeper’s airway closes completely, and they are suddenly awakened. This cycle could repeat up to 100 times during the night.
OSA can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including but not limited to:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Difficulty staying focused or motivated
- Decreased sex drive
- Sudden and unexpected mood changes
- Sleep anxiety or insomnia caused by the fear of being unable to get enough sleep
- Waking up with “cottonmouth,” or an excessively dry mouth
- Mild to severe morning headaches
If you believe you are suffering from OSA, talk to your doctor about treatment options. For more information, check out our article all about the different types of sleep apnea.
What can I do about excessive snoring?
Fortunately for snorers (and those that have to try and sleep next to them), there are a number of ways to reduce snoring. Here are some of the most commonly prescribed:
- Use an anti-snoring device: There are a number of devices that have been developed to help people stop snoring. Most of them are designed to keep your airway clear by moving your tongue and jaw, or widening your nostrils. More serious devices, such as a positive airway pressure machine (PAP) might be recommended to treat sleep apnea.
- Stop using alcohol and drugs before bed: Cutting alcohol out of your nightly routine can drastically reduce your snoring. An added bonus is that reducing the intake of these substances will also help you get a better night’s sleep.
- Lose some weight: Excess weight can be a factor. Losing weight may help cut down on snoring.
- Explore surgery: In extreme cases your doctor might recommend certain surgeries to reduce the chances of airway constriction in the night. Removing tonsils is one common example of this.
- Change the way you sleep: Sleeping on your side instead of your back, and keeping your head elevated a few inches above the body will help improve airflow and prevent snoring.