Your bedroom is quiet and dark, and your bed is just the right amount of cozy. You close your eyes and quickly sink into a deep sleep only to be nudged awake by your partner. You’re snoring again.
You are not the only one.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 90 million American adults of all ages and genders snore. Most of them are generally unaware of their snoring and must rely on the observations of their bed-partners or housemates.
What Causes Snoring?
“Snoring is caused by resistance in the airway — most often the soft tissues in the back of the palette are flapping around,” said Michael Stout, clinical sleep technician with Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital.
As we fall asleep, our throat muscles relax and narrow. As breathing continues through the more narrowed opening, the throat walls can vibrate, causing the raspy sound of snoring. The narrower the throat opening, the louder the snore.
Sometimes a body is just built in a way that leads to snoring.
“A recessed chin can cause someone to snore, as can having a narrow palette or large tonsils or nasal cavity issues,” said Stout. “Most of these cannot be corrected without surgery.”
“The most common cause of snoring is excess weight. Fat is not particular about where it deposits, so with weight gain you often find an increased neck size and even a fat build-up on the tongue, which affects breathing,” he said.
There are other causes. Alcohol or some medications, which relax the body, can cause the throat muscles to narrow more, as can lying in certain positions, such as on the back, and eating before bed. Additionally, having nasal congestion from colds or allergies can also cause snoring.
How Can It be Stopped?
Stout urges snorers to pay attention to and modify the controllable factors first to try and stop snoring.
“Be mindful of what you are eating late in the day. The heavy foods in the standard American diet are not recommended,” he said. “If you snore while on your back, try elevating your head, or switch positions. Avoid drinking alcohol, particularly before bed.”
Stout said that over-the-counter nasal strips can help in some cases.
“The strips of tape are placed across the bridge of the nose and work by opening nasal passageways, which help the mouth stay closed,” he added.
To help pinpoint what is causing your snoring, pay attention to the controllable factors that cause snoring and look for patterns. For example, if you find that you snore after having two glasses of wine, see what happens when you cut back or don’t drink.
“Keeping a sleep diary can help. Use it to track times you go to bed, what you’re consuming before bed and how well you sleep. As you see patterns emerge, change what you can,” he said.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If none of this works, or the snoring gets louder, it could be a sign of something more serious. Stout recommends talking with your doctor about it.
“When snoring gets louder it means the airway is becoming more blocked and could be sleep apnea,” Stout said. “This is an issue to take seriously. If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems, even death.”
To get more information about your snoring issues, your doctor may recommend starting with a simple home oximetry test that monitors and records the oxygen levels in your blood during sleep, or a more involved overnight sleep study at the hospital. After gathering that data, clinical sleep specialists can recommend a course of treatment.
“Ultimately, snoring is something to pay attention to,” Stout said. “When treated, you will notice improved sleep and increased energy levels, and your risk for more serious health problems is sharply reduced.”