Snoring is caused by vibrating tissues within the airways of the nose and throat. The vibrations that cause snoring are caused by turbulent airflow through narrowed airways. Snoring is affected by the stage of sleep, sleeping position, and the use of medications and alcohol.


What is snoring?

Snoring is caused by vibrations that cause particles in the air to form sound waves. For example, when we speak, our vocal cords vibrate to form our voice.

While we are asleep, turbulent airflow can cause the tissues of the palate and throat to vibrate, giving rise to snoring. Essentially, snoring is a sound resulting from turbulent airflow that causes tissues to vibrate during sleep. Any person can snore. In general, as people get older and as they gain weight, snoring will worsen.

What causes snoring?

While we are breathing, air flows in and out in a steady stream from our nose or mouth to our lungs. There are relatively few sounds when we are sitting and breathing quietly.

When we are asleep, the area at the back of the throat sometimes narrows as the muscles relax, and even close off temporarily. The same amount of air passing through this smaller opening can cause the tissues surrounding the opening to vibrate, which in turn can cause the sounds of snoring. The narrowing can be in the nose, mouth, or throat. Palatal snoring is often worse when an individual breathes through his or her mouth or has nasal obstruction.

Stages of sleep and snoring

Snoring is most common in REM sleep, because of the loss of muscle tone characteristic of this stage of sleep, and during deep sleep or non-REM sleep.

During REM sleep, the brain sends the signal to all the muscles of the body (except the breathing muscles) to relax. Unfortunately, the tongue, palate, and throat can collapse when they relax. This can cause the airway to narrow and worsen snoring.

Sleeping position and snoring

When we lie on our backs, gravity pulls the palate, tonsils, and tongue backwards. This often narrows the airway enough to cause turbulence in airflow, tissue vibration, and snoring.

What are the treatments for snoring?

The main categories of non-surgical treatment of snoring are:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Dental devices
  • Nasal devices and medications
  • Nasal CPAP

Behavioral changes include: weight loss, changing sleeping positions, avoiding alcohol and smoking and changing medications that may be the cause of snoring.

Surgery treatment may include:

  • Nasal surgery
  • Radio-frequency energy
  • Deviated septum
  • Nasal polyps
  • Oral surgery
  • Uvulectomy
  • Palate implants

Snoring can be a big problem, not only for you, but for the people you share the bed with as well. If you snore at night while sleeping, you may keep your partner awake. Get treatment to stop snoring so you and your partner can have a good night’s rest and sleep soundly.