What is snoring?

Some people breathe heavily when they sleep. Others make a soft whistling sound, and still others snore loudly.

Snoring doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a medical condition, but it can be a sign of a serious sleep disorder—sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring followed by a few seconds of quiet because of a pause in breathing. This is followed by another loud sound, like a snort, then the snoring resumes.

Snoring is common. As many as 45% of people snore sometimes, and 25% snore almost all the time. Men tend to snore more often than women.

What causes snoring?

It's often hard to tell why one person snores and another one doesn't. These are common causes of snoring:

  • Later stages of pregnancy

  • Irregularly shaped bones in the face

  • Swelling of the tonsils and adenoids

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Antihistamine or sleeping pill use

  • Large base of the tongue or unusually large tongue and small mouth

  • Congestion from allergies or a cold

  • Overweight

  • Swollen areas inside the mouth (including the uvula and soft palate)

Snoring by itself — when it's not a symptom of a medical problem like sleep apnea — may not pose any physical risk. But it can cause problems when sleeping in a room with your spouse or bed partner. Snoring can affect your partner's sleep and set off a number of problems caused by sleep deficiency.

What are the symptoms of snoring?

People who snore make a vibrating, rattling, noisy sound while breathing during sleep. It may be a symptom of sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea may include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Morning headaches

  • Recent weight gain

  • Waking up in the morning not feeling rested

  • Waking up at night feeling confused

  • Change in your level of attention, concentration, or memory

  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep

How is snoring diagnosed?

A healthcare provider may run a few tests or do a sleep study to diagnose the significance of snoring, particularly if they suspect sleep apnea. An ear nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) may examine your throat and neck and the inside of your mouth to diagnose the cause of snoring.

To find out if your snoring could be caused by a health problem, a healthcare provider may ask questions about:

  • Volume and frequency of your snoring

  • Sleep positions that make your snoring worse

  • Problems from affected sleep, including feeling sleepy during the day or trouble with memory or concentration

  • Any history that you have temporarily stopped breathing during sleep

How is snoring treated?

If your snoring is affecting your sleep (or your partner's), your healthcare provider may fit you with a dental device to keep your tongue from blocking your airway. Losing weight can also help treat snoring. Some people may need surgery to correct a blockage in the airway that's causing the snoring.

If sleep apnea is the cause of your snoring, you may need to sleep in a mask connected to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. This device helps reduce snoring and maintain breathing while you sleep.

A new treatment for sleep apnea is called a hypoglossal nerve stimulator. This treatment involves placement of a power generator under the skin in the chest, similar to a pacemaker. This is connected to a wire that travels under the skin in the neck. At night, an impulse is sent to the nerve that controls the tongue position, moving it forward.

What are possible complications of snoring?

Even if you don't have sleep apnea, snoring is a problem if it affects your bed partner's sleep. If you snore and have sleep apnea, treatment is important because of long-term health dangers. In sleep apnea, you stop breathing for at least 10 seconds per episode and have on average more than 5 episodes per hour at night. Sleep apnea and inadequate sleep can make it hard for you to think clearly and complete daily responsibilities. It also increases the risk of car accidents, and industrial accidents. If you have sleep apnea that goes untreated, long-term complications can include an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke.

How can I prevent snoring?

Preparations before bedtime and a few changes to your sleep style can help prevent or reduce snoring. Try these tips:

  • Use nasal strips (without medicine) that let more air into the nostrils.

  • Don't drink alcohol or take a sedative just before bedtime.

  • Maintain a healthy weight; work to drop excess pounds.

  • Sleep on your side instead of on your back.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Sleep apnea can be serious. Your healthcare provider should evaluate any snoring that causes daytime sleepiness or that affects your ability to think clearly. If your partner hears you stop breathing during the night, call your healthcare provider to see if sleep apnea is to blame.

Key points about snoring

Your sleep is nothing to take lightly. Your healthcare provider can help diagnose any potential medical conditions affecting your sleep and find ways to reduce snoring to help you—and your partner—get a restful night's sleep.

  • It's often hard to tell why one person snores and another one doesn't.

  • Men tend to snore more often than women.

  • Sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition.

  • If sleep apnea goes untreated, long-term complications can include an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions, especially after office hours or on weekends.

Online Medical Reviewer: Andrew D Schriber MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.