What Causes Snoring?

Snoring occurs when airflow through the upper airway is partially blocked. During sleep, all muscles in the body relax, including those in the soft palate (roof of mouth), tongue and throat. This loss in muscle tone during sleep can effectively narrow the upper airway which obstructs airflow and causes the soft tissue in the airway to vibrate with every breath. Snoring typically only occurs during inhalation, as the expanding lungs sucking the air down reduces the air pressure in the upper airway, pulling the walls of the airway inwards.

Snoring is often louder and more frequent when the snorer is lying on their back compared to their side or front. This is because gravity pulls the tongue backwards, partially blocking the airway.

For snorers with a high BMI, the excess of soft tissue in the upper airway will narrow the passage and make snoring more likely. Aging is another contributing factor to snoring as the muscles in the upper airway will weaken and loosen.

When is Snoring an Issue?

Besides the obvious issues of keeping bed partners or other people in the house awake or the embarrassment of snoring in a public place, loud snoring can be indicative of sleep apnea. If the partial obstruction of the upper airway closes over enough, it can trigger an awakening as the body detects it is not getting enough air. This can happen hundreds of times a night for people who suffer from sleep apnea.

Most people who snore do not have sleep apnea, but loud snoring or snoring interspersed with silent periods around 10-90 seconds are indicators of likely sleep apnea.

How is Snoring Treated?

  • Positional devices are available that the snorer can wear to train themselves to stay off their back. Home-made solutions can also be used, such as wearing a backpack full of clothes, propping a pillow against your back or attaching a tennis ball to a strap to wear around the torso.
  • Weight loss can contribute greatly to reducing snoring.
  • Sleeping in a slightly elevated position can help alleviate snoring as gravity will not be pulling the tongue back as much.
  • Treating any nasal congestion allows the snorer to breathe through their nose and able to keep the mouth closed, making snoring quieter or less frequent.
  • Sedatives such as sleeping medication or alcohol relax muscles more than they usually would and can exacerbate snoring. Avoiding alcohol before bed can make a big difference to snoring and general quality of sleep.
  • Although snoring can be treated with a CPAP machine, without a coexistent diagnosis of moderate to severe sleep apnea, the hassle and discomfort of a CPAP machine means it is not generally well tolerated.
  • A mandibular advancement splint (MAS) is a special type of mouth guard that holds the lower jaw forward, keeping the upper airway open. This is a very effective treatment for snoring, however a proper MAS made from a mould taken by a dentist and custom made for each patient is the correct option rather than cheaper options that are available online. A generic mould often causes more issues than they solve.
  • Upper airway surgeries can be performed to increase the space in the airway.
  • Laser treatments can also be performed which increase the muscle tone in the upper airway, reducing the floppiness of the soft tissue.