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What Causes Snoring? The Science Behind it

By HERWriter Guide
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What causes snoring? Jacopo Romei/Flickr

Snoring has long been a subject for jokes and eye rolls, and a cause of sleepless nights for hapless partners. Snoring has also compelled couples to sleep separately.

All jokes aside, snoring is difficult for snorers and partners alike. It can also be a sign of something more serious than just breathing loudly at night.

EmpowHER describes snoring as "the sound produced by obstructed breathing during sleep. People who snore have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke."

But what exactly goes on in the body when someone snores? What factors are brought together to cause snoring and what can snoring be a sign of?

Let’s explore the science behind snoring.

When a person snores, it’s a symptom indicating that something is going on with their breathing while they sleep. The journal Scientific American spoke with University of Michigan sleep expert Lynn D’Andrea for more answers.

She explained that snoring is “the combination of turbulent airflow through the hypotonic airway structures that results in the harsh vibratory noise known as snoring. Any membranous part of the airway lacking cartilaginous support, including the tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsillar pillars and pharyngeal walls, can vibrate. When you sleep, muscle tone throughout your body decreases, or becomes hypotonic. This relaxation of the upper airway muscles during sleep may decrease the size of the airway space and cause airflow limitation and turbulence.”

So now that we know how it happens, let’s look at why it happens.

Risk factors for snoring are being over 50, overweight, male, nasal/airway obstructions and use of drugs or alcohol. Some medications, drugs and alcohol are considered respiratory depressions that cause the body to “relax” too much. Thus breathing is less stable and more difficult for the body.

The biggest concern in people who snore is that it can be a symptom of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition where people cannot breathe correctly in their sleep. Their breathing can be shallow and gasping. Periods between breaths can be longer than normal.

Some of these gaps in breathing can be as short as 10 seconds or as long as a minute or two. Gasping and snoring are a result of sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea have poor sleep, and often feel ill or exhausted during waking hours. They are at increased risk for “high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression,” ]]>according to this EmpowHER article.]]>

Other reasons sleep apnea may occur include simply being overweight, where extra tissue obstructs the airways.

Reasons why someone may snore that are unrelated to sleep apnea include sleeping on one’s back (making breathing more labored), allergies and colds.

Anyone with sleep apnea should be under a doctor’s care, and should look into the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A mask is connected to the machine, helping to keep airways open to assist with breathing.

These devices also monitor sleep quality so a person can see how they are sleeping and can report changes to their health care provider.

Losing weight for an overweight snorer may help. Some people find that sleeping on an incline of just a few inches can stop air obstruction. Controlling alcohol and sedative use may also help.

If you have been told that you snore on a regular basis, a visit to a doctor is necessary. It may actually save your life.


EmpowHER.com. Breathing Conditions. Snoring. Web. Retrieved July 12th, 2015.

Scientific American. Ask the Experts. “Why do People Snore?” Web. Retrieved July 12th, 2015.

Reviewed July 21, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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