We have, at some point in time, had the experience of a sleepless night thanks to the rhythmic snores of a roommate, family member, or friend. When confronted, we hear the common refrain, “Do I snore?” So, what really causes snoring? Snoring is a sound generated when an individual is in deep sleep. It is usually caused due to an obstruction in the nasal passage. When air passes through tissues of the palate or the throat muscles that are in a relaxed state, it generates a vibration, which releases the audible snoring sound. It has been noted that 30% of women and 45% of men snore. There are many factors that may potentiate snoring such as consumption of alcohol prior to sleep, sleeping on the back, age, or weight gain. Snoring may also be due to health conditions such as allergies or infections. Medical interventions are available for snoring if the condition is serious. However, for the most part, such interventions should be avoided.
Causes of Snoring
There are many factors that cause snoring. As described above, snoring is a result of vibration of muscles in the nose, throat, or mouth. The physiological changes in the nasal passage may be caused by external factors such as allergies, infections, alcohol consumption, sleep position, and weight gain.
Sleep apnea: This is a condition where the tissues of the throat completely or partially block the upper respiratory passage. Sleep apnea may result in individuals experiencing brief periods of inability to breathe. Individuals with sleep apnea snore loudly coupled with intermittent periods of silence when the individual stops breathing. Individuals wake up with a start during such lapses in breathing. They experience disturbed sleep since they stop breathing, or breathing slows down nearly 5 times during an hour.
Nasal congestion: Blocked nasal passages due to allergies or cold can lead to snoring. Irregularities in the nasal passages are also a factor for snoring. Enlarged tonsils result due to infections. Children with enlarged tonsils are unable to breathe through their nose. They breathe through their mouth resulting in loud snoring during sleep.
Alcohol consumption: When an individual consumes alcohol before bedtime, it causes muscles to relax. The air that passes through the relaxed muscles of the throat and the palate, causes loud vibrations and snoring sounds.
Narrowing of air passage: Structural changes in the upper air passages can result in Snoring. The air passage is narrow when the roof of the mouth cavity is low. Similarly, when the triangular tissue is elongated from the palate (uvula), it blocks the air passage and individuals begin to snore. If the base of the tongue is large, it can block the air passage and induce snoring due to increased vibrations between the tissues in the nasal passage and the air molecules.
Position of sleep: An individual who lies on his back tends to snore as compared with lying on his side. While lying on the back, the tissues of the tongue, throat, and nasal passage are pulled downwards by the force of gravity. This narrows the air passage creating friction and vibrations between the air and the tissues of the nasal passage, tongue, and throat. On the other hand, when the individual sleeps on his side, this gravitational pull on the muscles is absent. The chance of snoring is less in such a position.
Stages of sleep: Snoring occurs in all stages of sleep but is most common in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. The brain signals the muscles to relax in REM sleep and causes narrowing of air passages. Narrowing of air passages results in turbulent airflow causing vibrations in the tissues and results in snoring.
- Snoring - (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/snoring/basics/definition/con-20031874)
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