Why do people snore?
During sleep, the muscles relax, including the ones in the throat. This relaxation can cause the airway to narrow, making it difficult for the lungs to inhale and exhale the amount of air needed.
If the airway narrows, the air breathed in is pulled through it faster. This causes the soft tissue in the airway to dehydrate and vibrate. The sound this makes is what we hear as snoring.
Reasons for snoring
There are many reasons why someone might snore. Medication, age and lifestyle can all play a part, as well as pregnancy and allergies.
- Colds, allergies and blocked nose. When nasal tissue swells during a cold (or allergic reaction), the airflow through the nose becomes restricted. This congestion narrows the airway, forcing the air breathed in to travel faster and further dehydrate the tissue. This may force a person to breathe through their mouth – and this can lead to snoring.
- Pregnancy. Snoring is a relatively common problem during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases, causing blood vessels to expand. This may lead to swollen nasal passages, which can result in snoring.
- Medication. Some types of medication (such as sedatives) can relax the soft tissue at the back of the throat, increasing the risk of snoring. Some people find that they don’t have the muscle tone needed to keep their upper airway open during the night.
- Age. Although snoring can occur at any age, people over 35 are at an increased risk of snoring. As we get older, muscle tone decreases all over our bodies, including the throat. Some people may find that they no longer have the muscle tone needed to keep their upper airway open properly during the night.
When is snoring a sign of something more serious?
A long-term problem with heavy snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a serious medical condition that can affect both quality of sleep and overall health.
People suffering with OSA find that their airway temporarily closes, preventing normal breathing during sleep. This is caused by a reduction of muscle tone in the upper airway during sleep, which causes the airway to collapse, preventing the air from flowing freely into the lungs.
OSA can affect both males and females of any age – however, there is a slight increase in risk for males aged over 65. Two factors which can increase the risk of developing OSA are smoking and being overweight. OSA can be complicated to diagnose because one of the main symptoms is excessive and/or loud snoring – but people can snore loudly without having the condition.
To learn more about how to diagnose and treat OSA, visit our How to Diagnose Sleep Apnoea page.