*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*
Snoring is one of the most common sleep-related disorders in America. Unfortunately, it not only affects the person that is snoring, but also anyone in the same room or even general vicinity as the snorer. While mild cases of snoring may be difficult to diagnose from the snorer’s perspective, any loved ones with which they share a room will know immediately of the problem Today, let’s take a deeper dive into the basics of this condition: what causes snoring?
Snoring is an extremely common health condition in the United States. According to surveys, 36 million Americans are affected by snoring on a regular basis. That amounts to roughly one out of every 10 Americans. Moreover, about 90 million Americans say that they are affected by snoring “occasionally.” For the most severe cases, about 26% of Americans report snoring almost every night.
Snoring does not affect all demographics of people equally, either. For adults, there seems to be a spike in the prevalence of snoring around the ages of 55-64. Within that category, 41% of Americans reported snoring most nights. Snoring frequency seems to drop with age; only ¼ of people surveyed between the ages of 65 and 84 reported snoring on a regular basis. Lastly, the condition seems to affect men and women differently. Overall, 40% of men reported snoring as compared to only 26% of women.
For people who have experience with snoring, the symptoms may be obvious. But, there are many more symptoms of snoring than just the audible noise that an individual produces. Let’s take a look at several of them.
- Noises and breathing pauses. This is by far the most obvious and common symptom. It can sound like an individual is struggling to breathe in “easily,” and you may observe short, temporary pauses in their breathing pattern.
- Restless sleep. This symptom is a result of the intermittent waking-up that can occur as a result of intensive snoring. This symptom (and others) can be similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from sleep apnea.
- General daytime tiredness. This symptom can manifest itself in many different ways. For some, it means a lack of concentration at work or school. For others, it means feeling too tired to work out or participate in social activities. Regardless, a lack of energy during the time could be a sign of snoring that is affecting sleep quality.
- Sore throat. The actual mechanism of snoring can be irritating to the throat. For this reason, some people may awake to find they have a sore or painful throat.
Anatomy of Snoring
According to the Mayo Clinic, snoring can be caused by a variety of factors, like “the anatomy of your mouth and sinuses, alcohol consumption, allergies, a cold, and your weight.” Broadly, the anatomy of snoring revolves around the tissue in the top of your mouth and throat (the soft palate) relaxing when you fall into deep sleep. This relaxation can partially block the airway. This blockage is what causes the characteristic snoring noises. Let’s take a look at how other factors can contribute to snoring.
- Mouth and throat anatomy. A large factor that can determine the severity (and even the presence) of snoring in an individual is due to body type and anatomy. The larger and thicker the tissue at the back of the throat, the more likely an individual is to snore.
- Nose anatomy. Just as the mouth and throat play a role in snoring, so too does then nose. Individuals who are chronically congested are more likely to snore. Similarly, those who do not have a straight nasal cavity (sometimes a condition called a deviated septum) are more likely to snore more often. The reasoning is similar to the mouth and throat anatomy: airflow does not make it into the lungs without disruption and “bounces off” of other tissues.
- Sleep position. This is an extremely common cause that snoring-sufferers will recognize. Sleeping on one’s back tends to further compress the throat tissue, causing even more snoring than sleeping on the side or stomach.
- Alcohol acts a depressant and your throat is no exception. Consuming alcohol before bed can further relax the throat muscles, leading to an increase in the frequency of snoring.
The severity of impact on a patient’s life from snoring can vary greatly. For some, snoring is a minor nuisance that the snorer doesn’t even realize. For others, snoring is followed by a debilitating loss of energy and focus. Fortunately, there are several treatment options that your physician may recommend.
One of the first things a doctor (sometimes a somnologist or ENT specialist) may recommend is to take a look at non-invasive methods of treatment. This may involve changes to diet and exercise to encourage weight loss and holding back from consuming alcohol close to bedtime. Other recommendations may involve a more-consistent sleep schedule and pillows to help sleep on your back more often.
MECHANISTIC AND SURGICAL REMEDIES
Often, excessive snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If this is the case, your physician may prescribe one a few different types of devices to prevent snoring. First, they may suggest an oral appliance. The goal of this device is to align your jaw and throat to place in a better position to prevent snoring and encourage more consistent breathing. Secondly, your physician may recommend an OSA-specific device, like a CPAP machine, for treatment. These devices, continuous positive airway pressure machines, provide a steady flow of air into your throat and lungs thereby helping to prevent sleep apnea and snoring.