Understanding Snoring: Causes, Effects and Treatment Options
What is snoring?
If you or your partner snore, you are not alone. Approximately 40% of adults in the UK snore at least occasionally. Out of these, around 25% snore habitually or regularly.
There are many different factors that can contribute to snoring, including structural abnormalities in the nose, mouth, or throat, being overweight or obese, the use of alcohol or sedatives, allergies, aging, sleep position, and smoking. Often snoring worsens with age, as more tissue develops, and muscles weaken.
Snoring is the sound that occurs when air flows past relaxed tissue in the throat, causing the tissue to vibrate as you breathe. Snoring can vary in intensity and pitch, ranging from a mild, occasional snorting sound to a loud, persistent and disruptive noise that interferes with your sleep and the sleep of others.
The severity of your snoring can depend on the degree of relaxation in your throat muscles and the narrowness of your airway. Often illnesses such as a common cold can cause snoring to worsen, as it can further restrict the airways.
While it may seem harmless, chronic snoring can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue, irritability, and even health complications.
Causes of Snoring
Many factors can cause snoring and affect the severity. They include:
Anatomy: Certain physical attributes, such as narrow airways, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, deviated nasal septum, or a long soft palate, can increase the likelihood of snoring.
Weight – Being overweight or clinically obese can increase the amount of soft tissue around the throat. This increases the pressure on the throat during sleep, causing it to narrow and restrict airflow. Typically, a person who is obese, and/or has a neck size above 17 inches, is more likely to snore. Often, they will snore more loudly and more frequently than somebody of average weight. Read more on Sleep Apnoea and weight gain.
Age – As individuals age, muscle tone and elasticity decrease, making the airway more susceptible to obstruction. Around 60% of men and 40% of women over the age of 60 experience snoring.
Gender – Snoring tends to affect men more frequently than women. It is estimated that around 45% of adult men snore occasionally, while the figure for adult women is around 24%.
Alcohol & Sedatives – Consumption of alcohol, sedatives, or muscle relaxants can relax the muscles in the throat, leading to snoring.
Smoking – Smoking causes inflammation in the airway, restricting the airflow and increasing the likelihood of snoring.
Nasal Congestion & Allergies – Any allergy that results in rhinitis (runny nose) or sinusitis will cause the nasal passages to become inflamed. Allergies, colds, or sinus infections can narrow nasal passages, forcing individuals to breathe through their mouths, resulting in snoring.
Sleeping position – When an individual sleeps on their back it can cause the tongue to fall backward, obstructing the airway. In the cases where the individual also has Sleep Apnoea, this obstruction will cause Apnoea’s (breathing pauses).
Pregnancy – The physical and hormonal changes in the body due to pregnancy can increase the likelihood of snoring.
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snorers in the UK
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people who snore have Sleep Apnoea
Identifying Mouth Breathing
Determining whether an individual is a mouth breather can help identify potential causes and exacerbating factors for snoring. Look for the following signs:
- Dry mouth: Waking up with a dry mouth and throat can be an indication of mouth breathing
- Open mouth: If the person is frequently found with an open mouth during sleep, it suggests mouth breathing.
- Bad breath: Bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be an indication of snoring. Snoring itself does not directly cause bad breath, but the underlying factors that contribute to snoring such as mouth breathing (the reduction in saliva production), post nasal drip, poor dental hygiene and Sleep Apnoea can contribute to bad breath.
- Waking up tired: Chronic snoring can result in insufficient sleep duration and poor sleep quality. When you don’t get enough restful sleep, it can lead to daytime sleepiness, mental fatigue, and difficulty focusing. Waking up tired can also be an indication that your snoring is more serious and could be a sign that you have Sleep Apnoea.
- Brain fog: Brain fog can potentially be an indication of snoring, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms related to poor sleep quality or sleep disorders. Snoring is often associated with sleep disruptions, such as brief awakenings or micro-arousals throughout the night. These interruptions can prevent you from entering deep, restorative sleep stages, leading to fragmented sleep. As a result, you may wake up feeling groggy, mentally foggy, and lacking clarity. In the case of chronic snoring, this can lead to a lack of oxygen and sleep deprivation.
Health Conditions That Contribute to Snoring
Sleeping with your mouth open occurs when your nasal passages become obstructed. Your body’s automatic reaction to nasal blockages is to breathe through your mouth. There are several anatomical and health conditions that can cause consistent mouth breathing and these include:
What causes snoring in females?
Although, women snoring is less likely than men it is still common. Here’s a few reasons why women snore:
- Menopause: As hormone levels drop during menopause, the risk of Sleep Apnoea increases. The hormonal changes can lead to weight gain and a redistribution of body fat, which can result in larger tissue around the neck increasing snoring or causing it. During menopause there can be a decreased level of estrogen and progesterone which can result in a reduction in the tone of the muscles in the upper airway. When muscle tone decreases, the airway may become narrower when laying down, making it harder to breathe.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations occur in the body. Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone can lead to relaxation and swelling of the tissues, including the throat and nasal passages. In addition, many pregnant women experience nasal congestion due to increased blood flow to the mucous membranes and hormonal changes. These factors can both narrow the airway, potentially leading to snoring.
- Hormonal imbalances
- Weight gain: Weight gain can result in the accumulation of fatty tissues around the neck and throat. This extra tissue can obstruct the airway during sleep and contribute to snoring.
It’s important to note that while snoring can be a common occurrence during pregnancy, it is essential to distinguish between pregnancy-related snoring and other potential sleep disorders like Sleep Apnoea. If snoring is accompanied by excessive daytime sleepiness, frequent interruptions in breathing during sleep, or other concerning symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation or take a sleep test.
How to stop snoring naturally
There are plenty of natural ways to reduce or stop snoring. Here are a few things you can try:
- Sleep on your side: Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft palate to collapse to the back of your throat, leading to snoring. Try sleeping on your side to see if it helps reduce your snoring.
- Lose weight: Being overweight can contribute to snoring, so losing weight may help reduce or eliminate your snoring.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine: Alcohol, smoking and caffeine are sedatives that relax the muscles in your throat, which can lead to snoring. Avoiding these substances or taking them only in moderation may help reduce your snoring.
- Treat allergies: Allergies can cause congestion in your nose and throat, leading to snoring. Try using over the counter or prescription allergy medications to treat your allergies and reduce snoring. Keeping your home clean and free of irritants will help reduce allergy symptoms
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach and back: Sleeping on your stomach can cause your neck to twist and your airway to become blocked and sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall backwards. Try sleeping on your side instead.
- Pillows and bedding: Special pillows and bedding designed to keep the head and neck in a proper position may help reduce snoring. If you suffer from allergies you may need to replace feather pillows to synthetic fibre.
Does snoring indicate a health problem?
If these strategies do not help reduce your snoring, if your snoring is severe, or you experience choking in your sleep, you should seek further advice. In some cases, snoring may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as Sleep Apnoea, which requires medical treatment.
Best Anti-Snoring Devices UK
The effectiveness of anti-snoring devices can vary depending on the cause of the snoring and the individual using the device. Some people may find that certain devices work well for them, while others may not experience much improvement. Anti-snoring devices that are available, include:
Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs): These are mouthpieces that are worn at night and hold the lower jaw in a slightly forward position to help keep the airway open. Mandibular Advancement Devices can be used to treating snoring and mild Sleep Apnoea.
Nasal strips: These are adhesive strips that are placed on the outside of the nose to help open the nostrils and improve airflow.
Positional Sleep Therapy: A positional sleep therapy device is a great option for those who only snore when lying on their back. The Positional Sleep Therapy Trainer is worn each evening and vibrates when the wearer rolls over on to their back. The vibration encourages them to roll back over.
Tongue Retaining Devices (TRDs): These are mouthpieces that hold the tongue in a forward position to help keep the airway open.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines: CPAP machines deliver a continuous flow of air through a mask or nasal plugs to help keep the airway open.
Nasal irrigation: If you have nasal congestion, try using a saline nasal spray, a nasal irrigator or a humidifier to keep your nasal passages open and reduce snoring. The SinuPulse Elite Nasal Irrigator uses a natural saline solution to clear your sinuses and nasal passages in minutes.
Humidification: Dry air can irritate the tissues in your throat and lead to snoring. Using a humidifier can help keep the air moist and reduce snoring. If you suffer from Sleep Apnoea and use a CPAP machine, a compatible humidifier can be added to your therapy depending on the device you use.
It’s important to note that not all anti-snoring devices are suitable for everyone and there can be some trial and error to find the one that works best for you.
Snoring and Sleep Apnoea
While snoring can be a minor annoyance for some people, it can also be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition, such as Sleep Apnoea.
Around 1 in 10 people who snore have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Being told that you snore may be embarrassing, but in most cases, snoring is harmless to the snorer and mostly an annoyance to the listener. However, if you experience any or all of these other symptoms, then it could be more serious:
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Lack of concentration
- You have been told you choke or stop breathing during sleep
- You have a BMI above 25
- Have a recessed jaw or deviated septum
- Need to urinate frequently at night
These problems are indicators that you or your partner might have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. OSA is a sleep disorder, where a person’s airway regularly closes, and they stop breathing during sleep. These regular interruptions disrupt sleep, causing the person to wake up not feeling refreshed and often tired throughout the day.
Is snoring a sign of a more serious condition?
In some cases, snoring can be a symptom of a more serious sleep disorder called Sleep Apnoea. Sleep Apnoea is characterised by pauses in breathing during sleep and can lead to significant health risks if left untreated. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect Sleep Apnoea or have concerns about your snoring.
Are there any natural remedies or home remedies for snoring?
There are several natural remedies that may help reduce snoring. These include maintaining a healthy weight, sleeping on your side, elevating the head of the bed, avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, practicing good sleep hygiene, and using nasal strips or nasal dilators to improve airflow through the nostrils.
Do anti-snoring devices, such as nasal strips or mouthguards, work?
Anti-snoring devices can be effective for some individuals. Nasal strips are designed to open the nasal passages, improving airflow, while mouth-guards or Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) reposition the jaw to prevent the tongue from obstructing the airway. However, the effectiveness of these devices varies from person to person, so it’s important to find the one that works best for you.
Can weight loss help reduce snoring?
Weight loss can often reduce snoring, particularly if excess weight is a contributing factor. Losing weight can decrease the amount of fatty tissue around the neck and throat, reducing the likelihood of airway obstruction during sleep.
Is snoring worse in winter?
Yes the lack of humidity can result in snoring. Air is drier in the winter, which can lead to dry nasal passages and sinuses. During the winter months, individuals are more prone to congestion, flu and colds, making a blocked nose mere likely. Using a humidifier can help reduce the risk of snoring as it provides moisture to the air in your room.
Why do I snore so loudly?
When you breathe, the airflow encounters resistance as it passes through the restricted space, leading to vibrations of the surrounding tissues. The more significant the obstruction, the louder the snoring tends to be.
Why don’t I snore when I am awake?
When you are awake, the muscles in your throat are more active and tense, which can help keep your airway open. As a result, the air flows more smoothly through your throat when you are awake, and you are less likely to snore.
However, when you sleep, your muscles relax, which can cause your airway to narrow or become blocked. This results in snoring.
Why have I started snoring?
The development of snoring can be triggered by a change in weight, facial anatomy, allergies, higher consumption of alcohol and the development of smoking.
How do I know if I have Sleep Apnoea or just snoring?
If you suspect that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, then an In-Home Sleep Test provides a quick, convenient and affordable way to have it confirmed. Within two weeks you could be able to begin treatment and enjoying deep, restorative sleep again. All studies are independently analysed by experienced NHS-qualified sleep professionals, and use the WatchPAT recording device for unrivalled accuracy.
Our service is tailored for people who suspect they have Sleep Apnoea, and want to have it confirmed quickly. You must have a BMI below 45 and be aged over 18 years to take this test.