Why Do People Snore?

If you have a partner who snores, then you know that familiar — and sometimes annoying — sound that may keep you up at night. If you snore, it’s also possible to wake yourself up with your own snoring.

Almost everyone snores occasionally, but an estimated 44% of males and 28% of females snore regularly.

Is that nighttime sound something to discuss with a health care provider? Here’s the scoop on what causes snoring, when it may indicate a more serious problem and what treatments are commonly used.

[Read: Sleep Reset: Getting Your Sleep Back to Normal.]

What is Snoring?

Snoring is the sound created by the vibration of soft tissues in the airway above the vocal cords. The sound can actually come from a few different places:

— The back of the tongue.

— The soft palate, which is a fleshy part back in the roof of the mouth.

— The side walls of the throat.

— The uvula, which is a flap of tissue in the back of the throat.

When you sleep, the muscle tone in your throat reduces, which can occasionally lead to the vibration and snoring. In some people, snoring causes a soft sound, while it can be quite loud in others.

[READ: The Best High-Magnesium Foods and Supplements for Sleep.]

Snoring Causes

There are several causes and risk factors associated with snoring:

Alcohol consumption.

— Being overweight.

— Nasal congestion.

— Obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea.


— The use of certain medications, such as sleeping pills as they relax the upper airway.

The biggest cause of snoring is obstructive sleep apnea, which is a condition that occurs when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you sleep due to your throat muscles relaxing, leading to blocked airways. It is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder.

Another form, central sleep apnea, happens when breathing stops and starts because the brain isn’t sending the right signals to muscles that control breathing.

It’s possible to snore but not have sleep apnea. It’s also possible to have sleep apnea but not snore, says Dr. Kevin Motz, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

[READ: How to Prepare for a Sleep Apnea Test.]

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Symptoms associated with OSA include:

— Daytime sleepiness.

Dry mouth.

— Gasping and choking for air in your sleep. You may not know if you do this, but a partner can tell you.

— Feeling as if you get poor sleep.

— Feeling irritable during the day.

— Having a headache when you wake up.

— Loud snoring.

Uncontrolled blood pressure.

It’s a good idea to see a health care provider for snoring to rule out sleep apnea. That’s because sleep apnea can raise your risk for other serious health problems, including:


Heart attacks.

— Stroke.

Your risk for these health issues increases because when your air flow is lowered or obstructed, it leads to drops in your blood oxygen levels while you sleep, says Dr. Eugene Chio, an otolaryngologist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. This can cause the body’s blood pressure and heart rate to rise and puts more stress on the body.

In addition, snoring with or without sleep apnea can become a quality-of-life issue both for you and those sleeping near you, which is another reason to get it checked out, says Dr. Hongzhao Ji, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

One way to measure your sleep apnea risk is with a simple test. The University of Toronto developed a brief screening test, called STOP-BANG, that can be a first step to assess your risk for sleep apnea based on your symptoms, body mass index and age. Make sure to follow up with a health care provider to share the results from this assessment.

A primary care provider can help refer you to a provider that treats sleep apnea, such as an otolaryngologist or sleep specialist, to make sure an accurate diagnosis is made.

“Most people who see me will get a sleep study to make sure we’re not missing something,” Motz says.

A sleep study involves the use of special equipment to monitor how you sleep, how often you may wake up and if you struggle to breathe. You can do a sleep study at home or in a lab specially designed for sleep studies.

At-home sleep studies

Many sleep studies take place first at home. If the results show you have sleep apnea, then your provider can recommend treatment as needed. If the results don’t indicate sleep apnea but you still have sleep apnea-related symptoms, your provider may suggest a lab-based study to find out what’s going on.

During a home-based sleep study, you’ll use specific equipment to measure factors like your:

— Breathing.

— Body movements.

— Heart rate.

— Oxygen level.

— Snoring.

Your provider’s office or the company supplying the equipment should instruct you on how to use the equipment properly.

An at-home sleep study allows you to measure your sleep while you’re in the place you regularly sleep. You also can use the test whenever you usually sleep, which is advantageous if you’re a night shift worker.

Home-based studies are also cheaper. If you have health insurance, work with your health insurance provider to confirm what type of study they’ll cover for you.

Although there are apps that can record sounds in a room at night while you sleep, most haven’t been validated for consistency.

Lab-based sleep studies

During a lab-based sleep study, you’ll show up at the lab at a designated time. A technician will help place a variety of equipment on you to track your heart rate, breathing, sleep stages and other important measures. Among the sleep disorders that a lab-based sleep study can help measure for are:

— Central or obstructive sleep apnea.


— Narcolepsy.

— Restless legs syndrome.

— Sleep paralysis.

A lab-based study is more involved than an at-home study, but it can measure more parameters than an at-home study. However, it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep during a lab-based study.

Treating Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

If it turns out that your snoring is associated with sleep apnea, treatment options may vary. If it’s mild, you may not need treatment. But if you have a moderate or severe case of sleep apnea and your sleep is interrupted many times every hour, you may need treatment to avoid OSA’s more negative health effects.

Here are the most common treatments for snoring and sleep apnea:

— A CPAP or other airway pressure device.

— Weight loss.

— An oral appliance.

— Surgery.


The most common treatment for OSA is through the use of a continuous airway pressure device, or CPAP machine. Users wear a CPAP mask while sleeping to provide them with continuous air, as the name implies. Today’s CPAP masks are less clunky than the one your father may have worn. However, they still can take some getting used to.

Another type of positive airway pressure delivered through a machine is called autoPAP, which adjusts the pressure of the mask automatically within a set range. Another type of airway pressure machine is called bilevel positive airway pressure, delivered via a BiPap machine. BiPap provides higher air pressure when you breathe compared with autoPAP and CPAP.

A sleep specialist may recommend a BiPap machine for central sleep apnea as well as other breathing problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Work with the health care provider treating your sleep apnea to find the best PAP device for you, and aim for a mask that’s comfortable and allows you to sleep adequately. This may mean returning more than once to find the right fit.

Weight loss

Not everyone who snores or has sleep apnea is overweight or obese, but weight loss is another often recommended treatment for snoring associated with OSA. When you lose weight, you will likely snore less. That’s because excess fat around the neck may restrict your airway when you sleep. When you lose weight, some of that fat may go away. You’ll also lessen your chance for some of the health risks associated with both sleep apnea and obesity, including diabetes and heart disease.

Oral appliances

An oral appliance specially fitted for your mouth is another treatment for sleep apnea. This will help maintain an open airway while you’re sleeping. You can discuss whether an oral appliance is right for you with your health care provider treating sleep apnea and/or a dentist who has experience with these appliances.


Surgery for sleep apnea is a last resort, but it may be used or recommended if you can’t use a CPAP mask or other forms of non-surgical intervention, Ji says. It’s also an option if you’ve tried other sleep apnea treatments but they aren’t working.

There have been some drugs studied for sleep apnea to help increase the muscle tone of the throat muscles at night, but there’s nothing commercially available yet.

Other Causes and Possible Treatments

There are a few other things you can do to reduce snoring, regardless of whether or not it’s associated with sleep apnea:

Avoid alcohol or sleeping pills before going to bed.

— Practice good sleep hygiene. This includes going to bed at the same time every day and giving yourself enough time to sleep.

Try sleeping on your side. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to move toward the back of the throat, which can lead to snoring.

— Elevate the head of your bed by a few inches, which may help reduce snoring.

— Treat nasal congestion with a saline nasal spray or an over-the-counter or prescription medication recommended by your provider.

— If you smoke, do what you can to quit. Smokefree.gov can help connect you by phone or chat with experts who can share resources on how to quit.

— Try devices, such as vibrating headbands and pillows, that activate when you snore. One downside, however, is that they may disrupt your sleep if they are activated too much during the night.

A Final Word About Snoring

Snoring with or without sleep apnea can affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep. If snoring is associated with sleep apnea, it also may raise your risk for serious health problems. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a health care provider to get to the root cause of your snoring.

More from U.S. News

6 Foods for Better Sleep

6 Best Yoga Poses for Sleep

Sleep Apnea: 11 Things That Make It Worse

Why Do People Snore? originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 04/25/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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