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Why Do People Snore?

UPDATED

Written by Afy Okoye

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

Snoring happens when tissues in the top and back of the throat and mouth flutter during sleep. These tissues relax while you sleep, making them more prone to vibration. Narrowing or partial blockage of the airways can make these relaxed tissues flutter. Air passing through these vibrations causes the rumbling sounds of snoring. 

Most people snore on occasion. However, regular snoring may be a sign of a health condition such as obstructive sleep apnea. Talk to a doctor if you stop breathing, choke, or gasp during sleep, feel very tired during the day, or if snoring causes serious problems in your relationships.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a very common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, snoring by itself doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has OSA. In fact, many people who snore don’t have OSA. However, it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms of OSA, as it can cause serious health complications.

The typical snore of OSA is loud and disruptive. People with OSA may suddenly stop breathing during sleep, followed by a gasping or choking sound as they restart breathing. If you have a bed partner, they likely will be able to hear these events. 

Other symptoms of OSA include:

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Swollen Tonsils and Adenoids

Swollen tonsils and adenoids can lead to snoring in children. Enlarged adenoids and tonsils that partially block the airways can cause OSA. Other signs and symptoms of swollen tonsils and adenoids include:

  • Mouth breathing 
  • Bad breath 
  • A stuffy-sounding voice 
  • A long, narrow face 

Most enlarged adenoids and tonsils shrink on their own over time. If the swelling is caused by an allergy or infection, then a doctor may prescribe allergy medications or antibiotics. If swollen tonsils or adenoids cause problems that do not improve with treatment, then a doctor may recommend surgery to remove them.

Nasal Congestion

Short-term or chronic nasal congestion can narrow airways and lead to snoring. As the airways inside the nose are narrow to begin with, swelling inside the nose can cause or worsen snoring. It is not uncommon to snore temporarily during a cold. People who have chronic allergies, a bent or crooked nose, or nasal polyps may regularly snore. 

If nasal congestion doesn’t go away on its own, then a doctor may recommend flushing the nose and sinuses with salt water or using a decongestant spray. Nasal dilator strips can also hold the nostrils open and may reduce snoring.

Pregnancy

Snoring is very common during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. Up to half of all pregnant people snore at some point during pregnancy. 

Several changes during pregnancy may contribute to snoring. Increased blood flow and changing hormone levels can lead to nasal congestion in pregnant people. Tissue swelling common in late pregnancy may also narrow airways in the throat and back of the mouth.

Smoking

Both smokers and people who are exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of snoring than non-smokers. In addition, children whose parents smoked during their pregnancy are more likely to snore than those who were not exposed to tobacco before birth.

Experts don’t fully understand the reasons why smoking is linked to snoring. Possible explanations include nose and throat irritation, congestion, and effects of nicotine withdrawal during sleep.

Alcohol and Sedatives

Alcohol use is one of the most common causes of snoring. Alcohol relaxes the muscles of the throat and neck, which can lead to snoring. Sedating medications like antihistamines and those used to treat pain and anxiety can have similar effects. 

Experts recommend avoiding alcohol in the hours before going to bed. Eliminating  alcohol use in the evening may both reduce snoring and improve the quality of your sleep.

Sleep Position

Your sleep position can affect whether you snore. Resistance to airflow through the nose increases when people lie on their backs, particularly among people who snore or have OSA. As a result, some people snore more often while sleeping on their backs than while on their sides.

When to Seek Medical Help for Snoring

Talk to a doctor if you experience problems due to snoring or if you think you might have OSA. Sleepers are often less aware of their snoring than the people around them. For this reason, it may also be helpful to talk to a bed partner or roommate, if you have one, to learn how often you snore, what your snoring sounds like, and what else happens when you snore.

Seek medical help for your snoring if you:

  • Stop breathing or choke in your sleep
  • Wake up with headaches most mornings
  • Still feel tired when you wake up 
  • Have difficulty staying awake during the day

About The Author

Afy Okoye

Staff Writer, Sleep Health


Afy is a writer and creative strategist in San Francisco with a master’s degree in international health policy from the London School of Economics. She has written for VeryWell Health, BlackDoctor.org, and Paste magazine and edited peer-reviewed journal manuscripts for Elsevier. Afy says her work with The Sleep Doctor is anything but “sleepy.” She enjoys the opportunity to learn new information and share knowledge that gives people the power to make better choices. Afy also likes to read non-fiction, do creative writing, and travel solo.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Bear

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