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Snoring

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Snoring

Condition Basics

What is snoring?

Snoring is the sound you make during sleep when the flow of air from your mouth or nose to your lungs makes the tissues of your throat vibrate. This can make a loud, raspy noise. Sometimes people who snore also have sleep apnea. This means you stop breathing at times during sleep.

What causes it?

When you sleep, the muscles in the back of the roof of your mouth (soft palate), tongue, and throat relax. If they relax too much, they narrow or block your airway. As you breathe, your soft palate and uvula vibrate and knock against the back of your throat, causing snoring.

How is snoring treated?

You may be able to treat snoring by making changes in your lifestyle and in the way you prepare for sleep. For example, lose weight if you're overweight, quit smoking, and sleep on your side and not your back. Or use a nasal strip over your nose to help you breathe while you sleep.

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Cause

When you sleep, the muscles in the back of the roof of your mouth (soft palate), tongue, and throat relax. If they relax too much, they narrow or block your airway. As you breathe, your soft palate and uvula vibrate and knock against the back of your throat. This causes the sounds you hear during snoring.

The tonsils and adenoids may also vibrate. The narrower the airway is, the more the tissue vibrates, and the louder the snoring is.

Snoring may be caused by:

  • Enlarged tissues in the nose, mouth, or throat.
  • Blocked nasal passages, which make it harder to inhale.
  • A deviated nasal septum, which disturbs airflow in the nose.
  • Loss of muscle tone in the throat. This makes it easier for tissue to collapse.

Other things that may contribute to snoring include drinking alcohol, obesity, and medicines that relax you or make you drowsy.

Symptoms

Snoring can be soft or loud. If you have a bed partner, they may notice that you sleep with your mouth open or that you're restless while sleeping. If snoring keeps you or your bed partner from getting a good night's sleep, either or both of you may feel tired during the day.

When to Call a Doctor

Call your doctor if you or your bed partner:

  • Snores loudly and heavily.
  • Snores and feels sleepy during the day.
  • Snores and falls asleep at the wrong times, such as when talking or while eating.
  • Stops breathing, gasps, or chokes during sleep.

Snoring is the main symptom of sleep apnea. This is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which you periodically stop breathing during sleep.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. It may be okay to try it if your snoring doesn't disturb your bed partner or if you aren't overly sleepy during the day. If home treatment doesn't help your snoring, contact your doctor.

Watchful waiting may not be the right choice if you or your sleeping partner snores loudly and heavily, is restless during sleep, is sleepy during the day, or stops breathing when sleeping. These may point to sleep apnea. Contact your doctor.

Exams and Tests

If you have a bed partner, they may notice that you snore or stop breathing at times during sleep. Stopping breathing can be a sign of sleep apnea. If your doctor thinks that you might have sleep apnea, you will be referred for a sleep study to find out.

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Treatment Overview

You may be able to treat snoring by making changes in your lifestyle and in the way you prepare for sleep. For example:

  • Lose weight if you're overweight.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Sleep on your side and not your back.
  • Limit alcohol and medicines such as sedatives before you go to bed.
  • If a stuffy nose makes your snoring worse, use decongestants or nasal corticosteroid sprays.
  • Try nasal strips or nasal disks. They attach to the outside of your nose to help with breathing during sleep.
  • During sleep, use a device in your mouth that helps you breathe. It pushes your tongue and jaw forward to improve airflow.

If you snore and have sleep apnea, you may be able to use a machine that helps you breathe while you sleep. This treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP (say "SEE-pap"). In rare cases, surgery may be used to treat snoring.

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Self-Care

Snoring typically is first treated at home. Here are some things you can do.

  • Lose weight.

    Many people who snore are overweight. Weight loss can help reduce the narrowing of the airway. And it might reduce or stop the snoring.

  • Limit the use of alcohol and medicines.

    Drinking too much alcohol or taking certain medicines, especially sleeping pills or tranquilizers, before sleep may make snoring worse.

  • Keep good sleep habits.

    Go to bed at the same time each night, and get plenty of sleep. Snoring may happen more often when you haven't had enough sleep.

  • Sleep on your side.

    This may help stop the snoring. Try sewing a pocket in the middle of the back of your pajama top. Then put a tennis ball into the pocket, and stitch it closed. This will help keep you from sleeping on your back.

  • Sleep with your head raised.

    Raise the head of your bed 4 in. (10 cm) to 6 in. (15 cm) by putting bricks under the legs of the bed. (Using pillows to raise your head and upper body won't work.) Sleeping at a slight incline can prevent the tongue from falling toward the back of the throat. This helps keep the airway open.

  • Treat breathing problems.

    Breathing problems caused by colds or allergies can disturb airflow and lead to snoring.

  • Use a breathing device while you sleep.

    It helps keep your airway open. This could be a device that you put in your mouth. Other examples include strips or disks that you use on your nose.

  • Quit smoking.

    This reduces inflammation and swelling in the airway, which may make the airway narrower.

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Credits

Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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