Snoring occurs whenever air can’t flow through your airways when you sleep. As air struggles to make it through your airways, it rattles against the tissues in your nose and throat, resulting in a snoring sound.
Everybody snores. Some of us snore occasionally, after a night of heavy drinking or when we’re sick with a stuffy nose.
But for those who snore regularly, it may be a sign of something more serious. Snoring is an oft-confused symptom of sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and it can occur with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health conditions.
Snoring isn’t just bad for your health, either. If you sleep with a partner and your snoring is keeping them up at night, it can cause major rifts in your relationship.
What’s a snorer to do? The first step is understanding the cause behind your snoring. Then you can set about treating it through a variety of behavioral techniques, lifestyle changes, or in more serious cases, medical treatment.
Whether you snore or your partner does, our guide will answer all your questions about snoring. Understand what causes snoring, how to stop snoring, and how to approach communicating about snoring problems in your relationship.
What is snoring?
The explanation of snoring is actually quite simple: whenever air can’t flow through your airways when you sleep, snoring happens. As air struggles to make it through your airways, it rattles against the tissues in your nose and throat, resulting in a snoring sound.
How do you know if you snore?
Most people only find out they snore after living with roommates or sharing their bed with a sleeping partner. If you live alone, there’s still a way for you to discover if you snore.
You can self-diagnose potential snoring if any of the following symptoms occur on a regular basis.
You wake up with a headache or dry mouth
You feel tired during the day
You wake up suddenly during the night, and not from nightmares
You wake up during the night wheezing, gasping, or coughing
You’re getting cavities or experiencing other dental health issues
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s possible you snore – or you have another sleep disorder.
Begin keeping a sleep diary. Note when you sleep and when you wake, your diet and activities from the day, and any suspicious symptoms. All of these can help your doctor provide a diagnosis.
What causes snoring?
Snoring occurs whenever your airways are obstructed, impairing your ability to breathe easily while you sleep. The obstruction or narrowing of your airways can result from a variety of causes, temporary or permanent. For example, your breathing tissues may have relaxed from drinking alcohol, you may have enlarged tonsils, or you could have fatty tissue from obesity narrowing your airways.
Causes of snoring
Below we review the common causes of snoring. Determining the cause of your snoring is important as it will guide which treatment path you take.
Obesity: When you’re overweight, fatty tissues are more likely to obstruct your throat and cause snoring. Also, lack of exercise can lead to poor muscle tone in your throat and neck, causing the tissues that are there to relax onto each other, instead of staying taut and open to facilitate easy breathing. Obesity is also highly correlated with sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder.
Pregnancy: During pregnancy, some women gain weight, causing the obesity that contributes to snoring. Even without substantial weight gain, the hormone increases that accompany pregnancy can make your mucous membranes swell, causing nasal congestion and subsequent snoring.
Being male: Men are nearly twice as likely to snore than women, simply due to their physical makeup. Men have larger airways, but their larynxes are positioned lower in their neck, leaving space in their throat. As they sleep, their tongue may fall back into this space, causing snoring.
Age: As we age, our throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone decreases along with it. This is a natural circumstance of aging that can contribute to or aggravate snoring.
Swollen tonsils or adenoids: For some people, snoring is just a result of the way they’re built. If you’re born with large tonsils or adenoids, you may be more prone to snore.
Large soft palate or uvula: Similarly, if you’re born with a large soft palate or uvula, as is common with autism, you’ll be more likely to snore.
Nasal deformity or injury: Other physical nasal deformities, whether caused by birth or injury, can block the airways and make it difficult to breathe clearly. The most common of these is a deviated septum.
Sinus congestion from illness or allergies: A typical symptom of many illnesses, like the flu or common cold, is a stuffy nose and trouble breathing. People living with chronic allergies experience similar nasal congestion throughout the day or night. Whether caused by illness or allergic rhinitis, this blockage can cause snoring.
Medication side effects: Some medications, such as tranquilizers or sedatives, work by relaxing the body. That relaxation can also relax the throat and nasal muscles, causing them to collapse and resulting in snoring
Drinking alcohol: Just like some medications, alcohol is a depressant and has a sedative effect on the body, relaxing the breathing muscles and causing snoring.
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes inflames your nose and throat, resulting in congestion, dryer mucous membranes, and snoring.
Sleeping on your back: Because the way your pillow positions your neck while you sleep, back sleeping can obstruct the airways and cause snoring.
Sleep apnea: If your snoring sounds more like gasping or choking, and you’re fatigued during the day, your snoring may actually be a symptom of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can occur from a blockage of the airways, your physical makeup, or a communication issue between your brain and breathing muscles. Whatever the cause, it is a serious sleep-related breathing disorder that requires proper diagnosis and treatment.
How to stop snoring
Depending on what’s causing your snoring, different strategies will be more effective at stopping your snoring, or at least lowering the volume.
For many, a few lifestyle changes is all it takes to make snoring go away completely or at least alleviate it significantly.
Switch to sleeping on your side. If you sleep on your back, stopping your snoring could be as simple as switching to your side. Ensure you get a pillow that keeps your neck and spine aligned, ideal for keeping the airways open. You may also want to get a body pillow or two to help bolster your body and keep yourself in the side sleeping position as you transition to this new mode of sleeping.
Watch what you eat. Heavy meals before bed disrupt sleep and may worsen your snoring. For more restful sleep, eat dinner at least a few hours before bed, and enjoy a late snack of one of these sleep-healthy foods if you get peckish. If you’re overweight, commit to eating healthier foods and work with a nutritionist to develop a diet you can stick to. The more you can reduce the fatty tissue around your throat, the easier it will be for you to breathe at night.
Engage in regular exercise. Exercise helps you lose weight, reducing snoring, but it also strengthens muscle tone throughout your body. The stronger your muscles, the better they’ll be able to stay open while you sleep.
Practice anti-snoring exercises as part of your bedtime routine. Any exercise will increase your neck and throat muscles, but you can strengthen your throat muscles specifically with any one of the following exercises:
With your mouth closed, purse your lips for 30 seconds.
Say each of the vowels out loud. Repeat for 3 minutes.
Open your mouth and shift your jaw to one side. Hold for 30 seconds, then shift it to the other side for 30 seconds.
Position the tip of your tongue against your top front teeth, and then slide it backwards along the ridge of your mouth for 3 minutes.
Throughout the day, sing to yourself or practice chewing on both sides of your mouth.
Stop smoking. Over time, chronic smoking dries out your nasal membranes, making snoring louder.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol, especially before bed, relaxes your muscles and worsens snoring. Avoid alcohol late at night, and limit your intake generally. Although it may initially make you drowsy, alcohol does not lead to restful sleep.
Drink more water instead. Avoid drying out your mouth (and making snoring louder) by staying hydrated throughout the day.
Review your medications. Some of your medications may have sedative side effects or dry out your mouth. If you have a snoring problem, let your doctor know. They may be able to prescribe you an alternative medicine that does not have the same side effects.
Do not take sleeping pills. The sedative effects of sleeping pills put your nasal and throat tissues to sleep, too, worsening snoring. When overused, they can become addictive and dangerous. Instead, consult your doctor about using melatonin as a sleep aid.
If lifestyle changes aren’t making a significant difference, investing in one or more of these products is the next step to take to reduce your snoring.
Use a humidifier in your bedroom. By keeping the air in your bedroom moist, you prevent air from drying out your nasal membranes and causing that characteristic rattling snoring sound.
Get an air purifier with a HEPA filter. For those with allergic rhinitis, this will clear your bedroom air of any allergens that contribute to your nasal congestion.
Get fitted for an anti-snoring mouthpiece. These are specially constructed by a dentist and designed to pull your tongue forward or keep your lower jaw in a forward position while you sleep. The end effect is a wider airway that allows for easier breathing.
Try nasal vents. These look like earplugs, but they fit inside your nose and keep your nostrils open while you sleep, preventing snoring.
Try anti-snoring nasal strips. These flatten your nose, thereby opening up your nostrils. Many women find these to be a helpful, non-medical solution for snoring during pregnancy.
Look into anti-snoring wedge pillows. These are designed to keep the head in an ideal position for open airways.
Stay on your side with anti-snoring pajamas. These help prevent snoring by keeping you in a side-sleeping position. These may have an inflatable belt around your midsection, or feature a pocket for a tennis ball to fit into. When you start to roll onto your back, the discomfort pushes you back onto your side.
Use a nasal rinse with saline, like a neti pot. These effectively clear the airways if you’re dealing with nasal congestion from seasonal allergies or an illness.
Get over-the-counter nasal decongestants if you’re sick. Not only will these relieve snoring during your cold, they’ll also free up your nasal congestion and help you feel a bit less miserable.
Medical treatment for snoring
Sometimes, lifestyle changes and anti-snoring products aren’t enough. If snoring is still disrupting your sleep quality, it may be time for medical intervention. There are various options here.
CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure) is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. If your snoring is caused by your sleep apnea, you will first need to get a sleep study done and be diagnosed with sleep apnea. From there, the sleep doctor will have you fitted for a CPAP machine. These devices are connected by a tube to a mask you wear on your face while you sleep. Through the tube, the machine delivers a consistent amount of air pressure, keeping your airways open and preventing snoring and sleep apnea.
Multiple anti-snoring surgical procedures have been developed to address specific areas of your airway that are blocked and causing snoring.
Septoplasty realigns the septum (the piece of cartilage between your nostrils) to enable better airflow.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3 for short) opens your throat by removing the uvula and some of the soft palate.
Uvuloplasty removes just the uvula, opening up the throat behind the soft palate.
Somnoplasty uses heat to shrink the throat tissues and widen your airway.
Tonsillectomy removes enlarged tonsils or adenoids, opening up your throat. This is one of the most common procedures for children with snoring or sleep apnea.
Snoring and relationships
If you sleep with a partner or share your home with roommates, your snoring can tear your relationships apart. People get grumpy when they can’t sleep, especially when they look over and see the person ruining their sleep is apparently dozing away peacefully. As a result of the snoring, couples may begin sleeping in separate rooms, leading to a lack of intimacy. Resentment grows, and the relationships suffers.
While the snorer suffers from chronic snoring, the non-snoring partner suffers from chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you tired and grumpy. It affects your cognitive performance, judgment and decision-making skills, and overall emotional balance. On a long-term basis, it leads to adverse health outcomes like diabetes and heart disease. These are serious consequences for something that can usually be resolved or reduced using the many tips we provided above.
Much of the problems snoring causes relationships can be alleviated with proper communication. By talking with each other and brainstorming a plan together to find a solution, the two of you can grow closer – as a couple and towards a future of snore-free sleep.
How to talk to your partner about their snoring
If you’re losing sleep thanks to a snoring partner, you can’t go on ignoring the problem. That will only lead to sleep deprivation, growing resentment, and exhaustion on your part. However, it’s important that you approach the subject sensitively.
Remember, it is possible to alleviate snoring. Chances are, your partner has no idea that they snore or that they’re keeping you awake with their snoring!
Follow these tips to facilitate a thoughtful conversation that leads toward a solution, instead of a fight:
Set up a time to talk, outside of your bedroom during the daytime. You don’t want to associate your bed, a place of sleeping and intimacy, with conflict. Waking up your partner in a rage isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Bring up the subject with kindness, understanding, and perhaps even a sense of humor. Your partner may be embarrassed to discover they’ve been snoring, and they may even react with defensiveness. Stay calm and caring, so they know you’re coming from the right place.
Speaking of place, come from a place of concern, rather than anger. Tell your snoring partner that you’re worried about their snoring because it could be a sign of a larger problem. You can share many of the causes of snoring above. Explain that it is important for their and your health, as well as your relationship, to find a solution.
Once your partner accepts the truth about their snoring, brainstorm a solution together. Review the list of tips above and start with the lifestyle changes. Keep notes of your efforts so you can track to see what is working.
Be there for your partner. Your partner is asleep when they snore. They need your help to fix this issue. Let them know if the snoring is getting better or worse as a result of their efforts.
Be patient. Most of all, you must be patient. While there are many things you can do to stop snoring, it takes time to find the one (or few) things that ultimately work. Be patient during this time, and find ways to ensure you get better sleep.
What to do if your partner is snoring and you can’t sleep
If you share your home or bedroom with a snorer, you of all people are aware of how noise can keep you up at night.
Although the ideal solution is for your partner to stop their snoring entirely, it’s possible the end result will be one where they snore less or more quietly.
While your partner works to resolve their snoring, work on training yourself to sleep better despite the noise. This will help you avoid insomnia and sleep deprivation during this time, or make it easier for you to sleep if their snoring never goes away entirely.
Get exhausted before bed. Whether it’s from a busy day, a strenuous morning workout, or socializing with friends, the more tired you are by bedtime, the easier it will be to fall asleep, snoring or not.
Get yourself into a calm state before bed. Follow a bedtime routine of taking a warm bath, using essential oils, or reading a boring book. Once you get into bed, stay focused on staying calm, by practicing deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization techniques.
Replace one noise with a better noise. Buy a white noise machine or download a white noise smartphone app. These include sound libraries with different colored noise, ambient sounds, and soft music designed to distract your ears and relax you for sleep.
Use earplugs. These come in different sizes and are made of different materials, so you’re sure to find a pair you find comfortable.
How to accept complaints about your snoring
Now, if, on the other hand, you are the one being approached about your snoring, it’s understandable to feel hurt, defensive or embarrassed. Keep the following in mind for a better mindset while you work on your snoring.
Don’t take it personal. Your partner or roommate cares about your and your health. Your snoring is not a personality trait; it is a physical problem that’s disrupting your and your partner’s sleep.
Listen. By hearing them out, you show your partner that you care about them, too. Listening also enables you to communicate more clearly with each other and develop a plan.
Stick to your plan. By committing to the lifestyle changes or investing various anti-snoring products, you are more likely to actually stop your snoring. With less snoring, you’ll both enjoy better sleep and better health.
Snoring vs. sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
For the latest academic research on snoring, sleep apnea, and treatments for both, visit the Medline Plus portal managed by the U.S. Library of Medicine.
Sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic, according to the CDC. Learn more about the government research on sleep disorders in America.