Snoring is the result of restricted airflow while a person sleeps. The restricted airflow results in a rumbling, rattling sound that occurs when air flows past the relaxed tissues of the nose, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe. Snoring sounds range from quiet whistling or vibrating to a loud grumbling, snorting, or rumbling.
Nearly everyone snores occasionally, but for some people, snoring is chronic. While occasional or low-sounding snoring is harmless, frequent or loud snoring can increase your risk for health problems. Snoring can also sometimes indicate a severe health problem.
Risk factors for snoring include having obesity, mouth or nose anatomy abnormalities, hormonal shifts, endocrine disorders, sleep apnea, and genetic diseases. Additional causes might include nasal congestion or blockage, alcohol intake, sleep medicines, back sleeping, and smoking.
People who snore might toss and turn at night, wake up with a sore throat, or experience daytime fatigue. Snoring might also affect your partner’s ability to get a good night’s sleep.
This article covers the causes of loud snoring, when snoring is a reason for concern, better sleep positions, and more.
Table of Contents
Causes of Loud Snoring
Snoring can occur due to various reasons. Seven causes of snoring are:
- Nasal congestion: A cold, sinus problem, or allergies can cause snoring when airflow is blocked.
- Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol before bed can relax the upper respiratory tract, increasing the risk of snoring.
- Sleep medicines: Sedatives, including sleep aids, might also cause you to snore.
- Sleep position: Sleeping on your back might narrow your airways.
- Being overtired: Being overtired can also relax airways and increase the potential for snoring.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking leads to upper airway inflammation (swelling), contributing to snoring. Smoking frequency is linked to snoring prevalence in both males and females.
- Sleep apnea: Snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which your breathing pauses and restarts during sleep. It is caused by narrowed or blocked airways. OSA is a serious medical condition that often requires treatment.
Occasional Snoring vs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Snoring alone isn’t enough to cause sleep apnea, especially occasional snoring. But if you have additional symptoms like loud snoring, pauses in breathing, or choking and gasping for air, let your healthcare provider know.
You may also experience daytime fatigue, not feeling rested in the morning, morning headaches and sore throats, poor concentration, and high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is typically diagnosed after a sleep study.
Risk Factors for Snoring
Some people might have a higher risk of snoring. Risk factors for snoring include:
- Excess weight: Being overweight or having obesity increase your risk for snoring and sleep apnea, so keeping a healthy weight might reduce the risk. Having extra tissue on the neck can lead to a smaller airway and an increased risk for airway restriction, especially a neck circumstance greater than 17 inches in men or greater than 16 inches in women.
- Pregnancy: Snoring is common during pregnancy.
- Postmenopause (after menopause, the time when your period has been stopped for 12 consecutive months): Research shows middle-aged women with low estrogen and progesterone levels are more likely to snore and report symptoms of OSA than other middle-aged women. That study also found that postmenopausal people with double estrogen concentration had as much as a 23% risk decrease in snoring, and those with double the amount of progesterone concentration had a 9% decreased risk in snoring.
- Mouth/nose anatomy: The shape and size of nasal and oral structures can constrict the airway and lead to snoring. For example, a person with a deviated septum is more likely to snore. In this condition, the wall between the nostrils is bent to one side. Nasal growths (polyps), jaw problems, or an enlarged tongue, tonsils, or adenoids (the tissue just behind the nose) might also lead to snoring.
- Aging: Older age is linked to sleep issues, including increased snoring. The tongue and airway tissues become weaker with age and increase snoring risk.
- Medical conditions: Some medical conditions might lead to snoring. For example, hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, can contribute to snoring because of some of its symptoms, including an enlarged thyroid. Additional medical conditions that might lead to snoring include hypogonadism (which causes decreased testosterone) and genetic syndromes that affect how the face and jaw are structured.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about half of people snore at some point in their lives. Snoring appears to run in families and is more common with age. However, a 2017 report in the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ shows around 8% to 15% of children snore.
Some people believe that snoring is a sign of sleeping well, but most people who snore experience restless sleep. They typically wake up tired and sluggish and will have trouble with cognition (thinking, perceiving, and reasoning).
Is Snoring a Reason for Concern?
For some people, heavy snoring could mean sleep apnea, and it is a primary symptom of OSA. According to a 2019 Lancet Respiratory Medicine report, it is estimated that 936 million adults aged 30 to 69 have mild to severe OSA, and 425 million people aged 30 to 69 have severe OSA globally. The countries with the highest number of adults with OSA are the United States, China, Brazil, and India.
Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, depression, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. The condition can also cause daytime fatigue and drowsiness, impairing a person’s ability to drive and operate heavy machinery.
While rare, another potential cause of snoring might be a throat or voice box tumor. Additional symptoms of a throat or voice box tumor are dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), a lump in the throat, or vocal changes. If these additional symptoms are experienced, you should let a healthcare provider know.
Contact a Healthcare Provider
Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience pain or breathing troubles associated with sleep or your sleep position. If you experience chest pain or breathing troubles while lying down, seek emergency medical care.
Better Sleep Positions for Snoring
Some sleep positions can cause a person to snore or snore louder than usual. This is especially true for people who sleep on their backs, because this position causes the airway to collapse from the weight of the neck or chest pressing down. According to the Sleep Foundation, back sleeping might also be linked to OSA.
Sleeping on your side might help you to breathe better, reduce snoring, and wake up feeling more rested. Studies on people without sleep apnea who snore have found that side sleeping can reduce the intensity and frequency of snoring.
If adjusting your sleep position is a struggle, you might consider trying one or more of the following tools:
- Pillows, such as a sleeping wedge, that are strategically positioned
- Postural alarms that promote side sleeping
- Night shift device, which is a simple plastic band necklace that vibrates when you shift on your back
- A bed bumper
- A modified nightshirt (i.e., sewing a tennis ball to a nightshirt to make it uncomfortable to lie on your back)
- An adjustable bed to raise the head of the bed
- Wearing a backpack to reduce turning onto your back
How to Stop Snoring (or Help Your Partner Stop)
Different treatments and lifestyle changes might help reduce snoring. A healthcare provider or a sleep specialist can advise you on the best ways to reduce snoring.
Some lifestyle changes that might help reduce snoring include:
- Weight loss
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Stopping sleep medicines or other nighttime sedatives
- Adjusting your sleep position
- Wearing a mandibular advancement splint to bed, which is a type of mouth guard that brings the jaw forward to reduce obstruction and improve airflow
If you are diagnosed with OSA, your healthcare provider might recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep the airway open during sleep. With this device, you wear a mask over the nose (or the mouth and nose) connected to the machine. The machine will give you positive pressure in the airways so they don’t collapse.
If snoring results from problems related to the roof of the mouth, tonsils, or nose, addressing those problems with treatment or surgery can reduce snoring.
It is important to be realistic about what lifestyle changes and treatments can improve snoring. Snoring can be improved or reduced in many people, but you will likely be unable to completely stop it.
If Someone Else’s Snoring Keeps You Up
If someone else’s snoring is affecting your sleep, try the following to block the noise:
- Listen to white noise.
- Use earplugs.
- Sleep in a different room.
- Go to bed before the person who snores.
If the snoring is chronic, your partner might have undiagnosed sleep apnea. In that case, you will want to tell them what you observe at night so they can get examined by a healthcare provider.
Waking a Snorer
While your bed partner’s snoring might affect your sleep, it is never a good idea to wake up someone who is snoring. They may not be able to fall back asleep once they wake up.
If you are concerned about your bed partner’s breathing during the night due to snoring or potential sleep apnea, ensure you wake them up in a way that does not startle them. Try gently shaking their shoulder or speaking to them softly.
Snoring is the result of air passing through a partially blocked airway. The snoring sound results when tissues in the airway touch each other and vibrate. For most adults, snoring is occasional, but for others, it can cause problems or occurs because of an underlying health problem.
Snoring is associated with certain risk factors, including obesity, hormonal shifts, mouth or nose problems, and genetic diseases. Additional causes include nasal congestion, alcohol consumption, sleep medicines, back sleeping, and smoking. It is also associated with sleep apnea, which, if left treated, can lead to health problems, including high blood pressure and heart problems.
Snoring can be managed through weight loss, reducing your alcohol intake, stopping nighttime sedatives, adjusting your sleep position, and wearing special mouth guards. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, a CPAC device can help to keep your airway open and reduce snoring. If snoring results from mouth or nose problems, treating those can improve airflow and reduce snoring.
If you share a bed with someone who snores, you can rest more peacefully by wearing earplugs, using a white noise machine, or sleeping in another room.