The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports that snoring affects approximately 90 million American adults on a nightly or intermittent basis1.
So what exactly is snoring? The characteristic snoring sound occurs when the airflow through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose, i.e., where the tongue and upper throat connect to the soft palate and uvula, is obstructed. When the tissues of the nasal passages and throat strike against each other during breathing, they vibrate, resulting in snoring2.
Common Causes of Snoring
What causes snoring? Several different underlying conditions and factors might result in snoring during sleep.
Studies have found an association between snoring and increased body weight3. Interrupted sleep patterns, sometimes caused by snoring, may lead to weight gain4, which has been shown to be an independent risk factor for other more serious conditions, including difficulties maintaining sleep (DMS), excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and insomnia.
The process of aging leads to several psychological and physical changes that may cause snoring5. Simple natural changes occur as the body ages and may precipitate or worsen snoring. Older individuals also tend to develop medical conditions, which may require the use of several medications. Some of these drugs affect the respiratory system and breathing, causing throat muscles and structures to relax, thus contributing to snoring. Metabolism tends to slow down with aging, which may lead to weight gain and an increased likelihood of snoring. Consuming alcohol and smoking may also further contribute to snoring in older adults.
In some cases, anatomical abnormalities could be the source of a snoring problem. The California Sleep Institute6 reports that anomalies in the roof of the mouth, including the palate, uvula and tonsils, as well as abnormalities in the throat and nose could cause an obstructed airway. Such obstructions can result in snoring that worsens over time, potentially leading to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious sleep disorder that can cause temporary pauses/interruption of breathing during sleep and represents a risk factor for other health problems such as cardiovascular disease. Alcohol consumption, certain medications, such as sedatives, and weight gain may exacerbate an existing anatomic problem that causes snoring. Allergies, colds and other upper respiratory conditions may also contribute to the problem of snoring.
- Palm A, Janson C, Lindberg E. “The impact of obesity and weight gain on development of sleep problems in a population-based sample.” Sleep Medicine 2015; 16(5): 593-597. doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2015.01.016