Snoring

Overview

What is snoring?

Snoring happens when air can’t flow easily through the mouth or nose. When the air is forced through an obstructed area, soft tissues in the mouth, nose and throat bump into each other and vibrate. The vibrations make a rattling, snorting or grumbling sound.

Snoring can interrupt sleep. Loud, long-term (chronic) snoring can be a sign of a serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. A wide range of surgical and nonsurgical treatments can stop or reduce snoring.

How common is snoring?

Snoring is very common. Anyone can snore at some point in their life. It’s more common in men over 50 who are overweight or obese.

Who is more likely to snore?

Nearly everyone snores from time to time, including babies, children and adults. Some people are more likely to snore than others. Snoring risk factors include:

  • Age: Snoring is more common as we age because muscle tone decreases, causing airways to constrict.
  • Alcohol and sedatives: Alcoholic beverages and certain medications relax muscles, restricting airflow in the mouth, nose and throat.
  • Anatomy: A long soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth), enlarged adenoids, tonsils or a large tongue can make it hard for air to flow through the nose and mouth. A deviated septum (displaced cartilage in the nose) can block the flow of air.
  • Gender: Snoring is more common in men.
  • Family history: Snoring runs in families. If you have a parent who snores, you’re more likely to snore too.
  • Overall health: Nasal stuffiness due to allergies and the common cold block airflow through the mouth and nose. Pregnant women are more likely to snore due to hormonal changes and weight gain.
  • Weight: Snoring and sleep-related breathing disorders are more common in people who are overweight or have obesity.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes snoring?

Snoring: Diagram of the Mouth | Cleveland Clinic
When you breathe, you push air through your nose, mouth and throat. If the airway is restricted, tissues — including the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth), tonsils, adenoids and tongue — vibrate against each other as you force air through. The vibrations make a rumbling, rattling noise. Several conditions and factors can block airflow. These include:

  • Alcohol and other sedatives that relax muscles, restricting airflow.
  • Bulky soft tissue, including enlarged adenoids, tonsils or tongue.
  • Excess body fat, which puts pressure on the soft tissues and compresses the airway.
  • Pregnancy hormones that cause inflammation in the nose.
  • Low muscle tone and muscle weakness in the mouth, nose or throat.
  • Nasal congestion and inflammation due to a cold, flu, allergies or irritants in the air.
  • Structural differences in the mouth, nose or throat that decrease the size of the airway.

What are the symptoms of snoring?

Snoring sounds range from quiet vibrations or whistles to very loud grumbling, snorting or rumbling. Some people might not realize they’re snoring when they sleep. People who snore may toss and turn at night, have a dry, sore throat when they wake up and feel tired during the day. Lack of sleep can cause headaches, difficulty focusing and moodiness. Besides snoring, some people gasp for air and stop breathing for a few seconds while they’re asleep. These are signs of sleep apnea, a disorder that leads to serious health problems if it isn’t treated.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is snoring diagnosed?

Your provider will ask you (and perhaps your partner) several questions, including how often you snore, what it sounds like and how your diet and lifestyle affect your sleep. During an exam, your provider will check your blood pressure, listen to your heart and look in your mouth, nose and throat.

To evaluate your sleep patterns, your provider may order a sleep study (polysomnogram). You might be able to do a sleep study at home, or you may need to spend the night in a sleep center. A sleep study evaluates:

  • Brain wave activity.
  • Breathing patterns, including any periods when you stop breathing or gasp for air.
  • Heart rate and oxygen levels.
  • Movements during sleep, such as arm or leg movements or tossing and turning.
  • Sleep cycles and snoring.

Management and Treatment

What are the nonsurgical treatments for snoring?

Your provider may recommend treatments to improve your posture or open your airways when you sleep. Remedies for snoring include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Avoiding alcohol before bed, changing your sleep position and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce snoring.
  • Medications: Cold and allergy medications relieve nasal congestion and help you breathe freely.
  • Nasal strips: Flexible bands stick to the outside of your nose and keep nasal passages open.
  • Oral appliances: Wearing an oral appliance when you sleep keeps your jaw in the proper position so air can flow. Your healthcare provider might call it a mouth device or mouth guard. A mouth guard used for other purposes, like sports, won’t resolve snoring.

What are the surgical treatments for snoring?

In some cases, snoring and sleep disordered breathing are treated with surgery to shrink or remove excess tissue or correct a structural problem. Many of these procedures are minimally invasive. Your provider uses small incisions, and you may be able to go home the same day. Surgery for snoring includes:

  • Laser-assisted uvulapalatoplasty (LAUP): LAUP reduces tissue in the soft palate and improves airflow.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: Also called Somnoplasty®, this technique uses radiofrequency energy to shrink excess tissue in the soft palate and tongue.
  • Septoplasty: This procedure straightens a deviated septum in the nose. A septoplasty improves airflow through the nose by reshaping the cartilage and bone.
  • Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy: The surgeon removes excess tissue from the back of the throat (tonsillectomy) or the back of the nose (adenoidectomy).

Prevention

How can I stop snoring?

You might be able to prevent snoring by changing your lifestyle, diet and daily activities. To reduce snoring, you should:

  • Ask your provider about medications to relieve nasal congestion.
  • Avoid alcohol and other sedatives before bed.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, stay active and get plenty of exercise.
  • Raise the head of your bed a few inches to change the angle and improve airflow.
  • Sleep on your side, not your back.
  • Try a snore-reducing pillow that keeps your head and neck in the proper position when you sleep.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people who snore?

Occasional snoring due to a cold or flu is usually harmless. But very loud or frequent snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, which is a serious disorder. Long-term snoring increases the risk of health problems, including:

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about snoring?

Snoring can lead to health problems. It’s essential to get an evaluation and talk to your provider about how to stop snoring. You should see your provider as soon as possible if you feel like you can’t breathe when you sleep or you’re extremely tired during the day.

If your child is snoring, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. Children who snore may not get enough restful sleep at night. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of behavior problems in kids. Sleep-deprived kids are more likely to feel tired all the time or have trouble focusing at school.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Snoring is annoying and disruptive. It can also be a symptom of a larger problem. If snoring lasts longer than a few nights or is very loud, talk to your provider. Long-term snoring can lead to serious health issues. You can take steps to reduce snoring by staying healthy and active. Ask your provider about treatments to help you breathe easier, sleep better and feel more rested.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/07/2021.

References

  • Merck Manuals. Snoring. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/sleep-disorders/snoring) Accessed 5/13/2021.
  • American Sleep Apnea Association. Is It Snoring Or Sleep Apnea? (https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea/do-i-have-sleep-apnea/is-it-snoring-or-sleep-apnea/) Accessed 5/13/2021.
  • National Sleep Foundation. Snoring in Children. (https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/snoring-children) Accessed 5/13/2021.

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