Whether you call it snoring or something like “sawing logs,” snoring causes serious sleep disruptions and may even be a sign of something more serious. Known by medical professionals as “stertor,” snoring occurs when the tissues in your throat relax so much that they start to vibrate. This causes a partial obstruction of the airway, which is why people who snore may experience sore throats or coughing fits during the night.
Your snoring is no picnic for family members, either. The sound of loud snoring can carry several rooms away, making it impossible for family members and house guests to get a good night’s sleep. Once you learn more about what causes snoring and how to stop it, you may find yourself enjoying better sleep and improved energy levels.
Mouth, Throat and Nose Anatomy
While humans all have the same basic anatomy, small differences from one person to the next can cause on person to snore while another person sleeps like a baby. Anyone with enlarged tonsils or adenoids is at risk of snoring because the extra tissue can lie against the back of the throat.
If your palate hangs lower than normal, or is thicker than normal, it will cause your airway to narrow. Both of these issues create the perfect storm of partial airway obstruction and tissue vibration.
A problem with the anatomy of the nasal passages can also be what causes loud snoring in some people. One of these problems is deviated septum, which is when the wall between the nostrils is not in the center of the nose as it should be. This makes one of the nasal passages smaller, which can interrupt normal air flow as you sleep. Nasal congestion can also lead to snoring, as the blood vessels swell up and block the flow of air through the nose and throat.
Snoring is a Major Symptom of Sleep Apnea
Many cases of snoring are annoying, but they don’t represent any real danger. In some people, however, snoring can be a sign of a serious condition called sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea sometimes stop breathing when they are asleep. These brief interruptions in breathing can occur as many as several hundred times each night. When wondering what causes snoring in men, sleep apnea is one of the most likely answers, as this condition affects men much more often than women. The most common sign of sleep apnea is extremely loud snoring, which affects sleep quality and may make it unbearable for others to sleep in the same room. Sleep apnea also causes frequent headaches, sleep disturbances and dry mouth upon waking.
Three types of sleep apnea affect both men and women. Central sleep apnea is when there is no obstruction in the airway, but the brain forgets to signal the muscles in the respiratory system to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, occurs when there is a blockage of the airway. This usually happens when the tissues at the back of the throat close during sleep. People can also have mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Every time someone with this type of sleep apnea stops breathing, the brain wakes the person up so that breathing resumes. Because the person partially wakes up many times each night, this type of sleep apnea causes very poor sleep quality.
Although an overnight sleep study is the only way to diagnose sleep apnea, researchers have been trying to find less expensive methods of diagnosing the problem. One group of researchers from Brazil conducted a study to determine if the absence of a gag reflex or palatal reflex (the swallowing reflex that kicks in when something touches your palate) could help determine if someone is at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. J.S. Valbuza and his research colleagues tested their theory in 55 people, 41 of whom had obstructive sleep apnea. They determined that the people with severe obstructive sleep apnea had no gag reflex and people with just moderate sleep apnea had no palatal reflex. While more research is needed, this could prove to be an inexpensive and noninvasive way to determine if someone might have obstructive sleep apnea.
Are You Overweight? Obesity May Cause Snoring
Most people only notice when extra weight ends up on their hips, bellies, thighs and butts. What many people don’t know is that you can actually gain extra weight in your throat. When you gain weight around the waist, what happens? Your pants feel tight and you might have to perform some gymnastics to get them to button. Something similar happens in your throat. The extra weight doesn’t leave a lot of room for air to flow normally. This causes a partial obstruction and the snoring that prevents you from getting decent sleep.
Dr. Howard M. Braver of the University of Florida set out to determine if weight loss had any effect on snoring in a group of men. The men tried adjusting their sleep positions and using nasal sprays to reduce snoring, but these treatments had no effect on their snoring frequency. Dr. Braverman had 19 people from the original study follow a six-month weight loss program. Weight loss had a definite effect on snoring frequency, with men who lost at least 6.6 pounds dropping from 320 snores per hour to 176 snores per hour. The men who lost an average of 16.7 pounds almost eliminated their snoring completely. Since this study involved only men, it does not address what causes snoring in women, but it may help medical professionals discover new treatments for this bothersome sleep issue.
Alcohol Use Can Cause Snoring
If you don’t have airway obstructions, nasal problems, weight issues or sleep apnea, you might have just one question: what are the causes of snoring in people who don’t have these issues? It might surprise you to learn that alcohol consumption can cause snoring. When you drink an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat. This makes it easier for a partial throat obstruction to form. Reduce your risk by drinking in moderation.
So, what are the causes for snoring? In most cases, snoring occurs when a mouth, throat or nasal problem causes a partial obstruction of your airway. This can also occur if you are overweight or obese. Some people experience severe snoring if they have sleep apnea, a serious medical condition. If you have tried over-the-counter remedies and your snoring persists, talk to your doctor. You may need an examination and tests to determine the cause and find a treatment that works.