Imagine this: you’re drifting peacefully off to sleep next to your partner. You begin dreaming of a loud lawn mower and it wakes you right up. But it’s no lawn mower, but the sound of your partner snoring. You can’t get back to sleep. In the morning, you’re tired and irritated, but don’t want to make your partner feel bad as it wasn’t their fault.
45 percent of adults snore occasionally while 25% snore regularly – a figure estimated to be a lot higher, but as you may have guessed, we aren’t always aware of our snoring because we’re asleep. Often, we are only made aware of snoring in the case of severity: whether that’s sleep apnea or a frustrated partner.
Snoring is also the third leading cause of divorce in relationships.
In this article we’re going to be answering the question: what is the cause of snoring? As with all health-related idiosyncrasies, there is often an underlying cause of snoring – understanding this cause can be helpful to prevent snoring in the future.
What is Snoring? Is It Connected To Sleep Apnea?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the definition of snoring is the hoarse or harsh sound that occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe.
When you are awake and take a breath in, your air travels past the tongue, the back of the roof of the mouth, the back of the mouth, and the tonsils. The muscles in the back of the throat tighten to uphold these structures , preventing them from vibrating and making an audible noise.
However, when you are asleep, these muscles are relaxed, and so can vibrate. For some people, this vibration is minimal at best and does not result in an audible noise.
But for others, with certain anatomy or specific situations, it can result in snoring.
For those who experience severe snoring, it can be a source of embarrassment and anxiety.
When does snoring occur?
There are two main stages of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). During NREM, your breathing slows, core temperature drops and muscles relax, as you enter into deep, undisturbed sleep.
As you may have guessed, snoring is more common during NREM stages of sleep due to the component of muscle relaxation. Plus, during deep sleep, you are less aware of external noises and so sleep through your own snoring.
However, as discovered in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, if your snoring is the result of obstructive sleep apnea, you may snore more so during REM sleep.
But snoring is not just reflective of the sleep stage. Some people never snore, whilst for others, it’s a nightly occurrence, throughout the entire night.
What is the cause of snoring?
There are a number of causes of snoring, that can be loosely separated into the categories of: preventable and lifestyle related habits that can increase the likelihood of snoring, and anatomical and medical causes. Here are some of the common causes of snoring and some snoring solutions.
Diet and lifestyle related causes of snoring
1. Alcohol consumption
We covered the fact that snoring happens when the muscles in the back of the throat are relaxed. When you drink alcohol, it interrupts the flow of calcium in muscle cells.
Calcium is a mineral that plays an important role in muscle contraction. Thus, consuming alcohol has a relaxation effect on the muscles.
While this may sound advantageous due to the word ‘relax’, in reality, alcohol dehydrates you, increases the risk of joint pain, depresses the central nervous system function and greatly increases the likelihood of snoring.
Summarized in a report published by The American Journal of Managed Care, alcohol consumption directly correlates to the severity of snoring and sleep apnea due to “impaired sleep architecture”.
If you want a sound night sleep, better avoid the drinks!
2. Sleep position
If you sleep on your back, you are more prone to snoring. This is due to gravity: collapsing the structure of your mouth, narrowing the airways and increasing the vibration with each breath.
Luckily, there’s an easy outcome for this!
Sleeping on your side is an easy snoring remedy.
3. Sleep deprivation
You may notice that when you are particularly tired, your body feels lax and you drift into sleep within minutes. This can cause excessive muscular relaxation in the throat, increasing the risk of snoring.
Unfortunately, snoring and sleep deprivation can be a vicious circle: snoring impacts the quality and duration of your sleep, and sleep deprivation can increase the severity of snoring!
If you do struggle with sleep deprivation, try to wind down slowly – avoid blue light exposure, supplement with melatonin, and mentally wind down before getting into bed to improve the quality of sleep.
4. Eating too late at night
Studies show that eating late at night can increase the risk of snoring. Having a stomach full of undigested food creates tightness in your diaphragm, which as a result, reduces your capacity for deep breathing.
This can make you feel short of breath, impacting your ability to sleep easily, as well as increasing the risk of snoring.
Aim to finish your last meal at least three to four hours before sleep.
5. Eating too much dairy
Dairy foods contain lactose, which has been linked to snoring. Lactose triggers the production of thick mucus, which impairs respiratory function. Avoid eating dairy for at least a few hours before bed.
Anatomical and Medical Causes of Snoring
6. Overweight or obesity
Studies show that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to snore. Excess body fat compresses the airway, which gets worse when lying on your back. Similarly, excess body fat combined with poor muscle tone exacerbates snoring.
A study found that when overweight or obese participants lost weight, they experienced less snoring. Increasing your exercise and limiting your food intake can help to decrease excess fat and improve snoring.
7. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is associated with snoring. It is a serious condition that can be hereditary or caused by another medical condition like obesity. During OSA, the normal flow of air is blocked and the individual stops breathing, often jolting awake as a result, coughing and wheezing to get their breath back.
A common symptom of OSA is snoring, especially if combined with trouble breathing or excessive daytime drowsiness. Getting this condition diagnosed can help you target the cause of the snoring, and find the right solutions.
Tatch is a home sleep test that monitors your sleep using an attachable patch. The results of which are shared with a sleep expert, to give you a customized sleep report and recommendations to help you manage your condition.
There are a number of anatomical differences that can increase the risk of snoring. For example, having excess throat tissue or a deviated septum. Unfortunately, you can’t alter this easily, and surgery is required for most anatomical issues. However, adjusting certain lifestyle factors like diet and body weight can help to reduce the severity of snoring.
Men have naturally narrower airways than women, and are prone to fat gain on the neck region. As a result, 40 percent of men snore compared to just 24 percent of women . Again, implementing natural snoring remedies can help to reduce the intensity of this variable.
There are many causes of snoring, and oftentimes, a combination of different variables are responsible. The reasons for snoring are complex and due to the anatomy of our respiratory system. If you are struggling with snoring, implementing some of the dietary and lifestyle adjustments we mentioned can have a pronounced benefit.
If you’d like to stop your snoring or get to know the root cause, we invite you to click here. The Patch – a sleeping analysis tool which can measure your snoring paired with expert advice to move forward.
You deserve to sleep better, for good.