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Bad vibrations: Why some people snore

We count on sleep to help us stay healthy and refreshed. But snoring can sometimes stand between us and the rest we need.

Millions of American adults snore on a regular basis, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

Snoring can affect sleep quality for the snorer. But loud snoring can also make things tough on a bed partner, who may be kept wide awake.

Causes of snoring

Snoring happens when airflow is restricted in the passage at the back of the mouth and nose, causing soft tissue to flutter or vibrate during breathing. For instance, the soft palate at the back of the throat may become too relaxed during sleep and vibrate against the back of the throat or the tongue as air is drawn through the narrowed airway.

Snoring gets louder as less air gets through the breathing passage.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) and other experts, factors that may contribute to snoring include:

  • Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat.
  • Deformities of the nose, throat and mouth, such as a long uvula—the fleshy tissue that dangles from the back of the throat.
  • Nasal airways obstructed or blocked by allergies, colds or sinus infections.
  • Older age.
  • Being overweight.
In addition, men are more likely to snore than women are. Children may snore if they have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, according to the AAO-HNS.

Snoring can be serious

Snoring can annoy others and disrupt sleep patterns for the person who snores. But more seriously, heavy snoring can be a sign of a medical condition called sleep apnea. In this condition, breathing is interrupted briefly during sleep, often several hundred times a night. Without treatment, sleep apnea may pose serious health risks, including an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Even without sleep apnea, snoring has been associated with problems such as high blood pressure and fatigue, according to the NSF.

Stop sawing logs

If you snore, you may not know it unless someone around you tells you so. But if you know you snore heavily in any position or cause family members to lose sleep, talk to your doctor.

Often, the key to treating snoring is to make lifestyle changes. The NSF and the AAO-HNS say there are things you can do (as well as things you should avoid) to help keep snoring under control.

What you can do:

  • Control your weight. This can free up airway space in the throat.
  • Consider nasal strips. They may reduce snoring by gently opening the nostrils.
  • Adopt a healthy and active lifestyle for good muscle tone.
  • Set regular sleep patterns.

What you should avoid:

  • Sedatives, sleeping pills and antihistamines before bed.
  • Large meals before bed.
  • Sleeping on your back. It can increase snoring. Sleep on your side instead.
  • Smoking. It can contribute to nasal congestion.
  • Alcohol. Drinking before bedtime can make snoring worse by causing the muscles in the airway to relax too much.

If you snore heavily, medical treatments may also be an option. The best treatment will depend on the cause of your snoring.

Possible treatments include:

Medical devices. For example, you may use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which sends air pressure into the throat while you sleep. A dentist or orthodontist may also be able to fit you with an oral appliance to help keep the airway clear during sleep by repositioning the lower jaw and the tongue.

Medicines to treat allergies or infections that may be hampering breathing.

Surgery to clear an obstruction or to correct a nasal deformity.

A cautionary note

Hundreds of patented antisnoring devices are hailed as cures. But they may not improve sleep quality, even if they seem to work, the AAO-HNS cautions.

If snoring is a problem for you or someone you love, the best thing to do is to talk to a doctor. With proper treatment, you and your family may rest easier.

Reviewed 9/8/2023

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