Noisy breathing during sleep is known as snoring. This common problem affects a large segment of the population – approximately 90 million Americans snore occasionally, and over a third of those do so on a regular basis. Snoring isn’t just a nuisance; it can interfere with your quality of sleep, and may lead to serious medical issues.

Why Do People Snore?

During sleep, the throat muscles relax and the tongue can droop backwards, causing a blockage in the airway. This obstruction narrows the throat and inhibits breathing; as a result the tissues vibrate together to produce the characteristic noise we call snoring. In some people the airway becomes so narrow that breathing ceases periodically throughout the night. This is a potentially dangerous condition known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring occurs due to a variety of factors. Normal aging can cause the throat muscles to become overly relaxed. Obstructions in the airways – nasal polyps, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, deviated septum, an abnormally long soft palate or tongue – may block the throat and exacerbate snoring. Inflammation of the nose or throat due to colds, allergies, and sinus infections leads to breathing difficulties and snoring. Excess weight often leads to bulky neck and throat tissue, important factors in snoring. Other contributing factors include alcohol, eating heavy meals or snacks before bedtime, and sleeping on your back.

Treatment for Snoring

Snoring can be an embarrassment, and may negatively affect not only your wellbeing, but that of your sleeping partner, as well. This may cause tension and stress in your relationship. When your normal sleep cycle is disrupted, you’ll likely experience daytime drowsiness and problems with concentration and memory. Loud snoring may indicate obstructive sleep apnea, which can cause serious medical complications if left untreated. The heart must work harder to supply oxygen to your blood, putting you at risk for coronary disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. If your partner reports pauses in your breathing during sleep, or you wake up choking or gasping and experience morning headaches, sore throats, or dry mouth, speak with your physician. You may need a sleep test to determine whether you are suffering from apnea.

There are several options for treating snoring. Making lifestyle modifications, such as sleeping on your side and losing weight, may be enough to help those whose snoring is mild. Oral mouth guards that reposition the lower jaw during sleep, and nasal breathing strips, may help open up the airways and prevent snoring. Surgery may be an additional option. Obstructive sleep apnea is usually treated with a device that supplies continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to the throat during sleep.