Is your family complaining about your snoring? Do you wake up tired, with a dry mouth and a sore throat in the morning? Don’t be embarrassed if you do - almost half of the world population snore occasionally, and a quarter snore regularly - so you’re definitely not alone. That being said, snoring is more than a minor annoyance, and persistent snoring may even point to an underlying health condition that needs addressing.
Snoring is the sound created by an obstruction in the airways. And many factors - from nasal congestion to a deviated nasal septum can create that obstruction. Below, we list 6 possible causes of snoring and ways to address them.
1. Sleep apnea
Snoring is the most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea. This common sleep disorder affects roughly every 20th person in the world (about 6% of the population). Most of these people are never diagnosed or treated. Several types of sleep apnea exist, but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common variety.
The condition occurs when the throat muscles relax so much that they briefly block the airways. Gasping for air, the person briefly wakes up and then goes back to sleep. These breaks in breathing can occur several times every night and affect one’s quality of sleep. Treatments of sleep apnea range from lifestyle changes to using a special machine while you sleep. Read more about sleep apnea here 7 Silent Signs of Sleep Apnea.
2. A deviated nasal septum
Snoring can be a sign of another extremely common health condition - a deviated nasal septum. The nasal septum is the cartilage that divides your nasal cavity into two parts and supports the structure of the nose. Oftentimes, the nasal septum isn’t completely straight and, in this case, it divides the space within the nasal cavity unevenly - this is called a deviated septum.
This unevenness is very common. Over 80% of the world population has a deviated septum. For most, the condition is hardly visible and asymptomatic, but it can also be quite troublesome and painful for others. Symptoms include nosebleeds, difficulty breathing, and facial pain, but the narrowness in one of the nostrils can also make your breathing sound louder and make you snore.
In mild cases, a decongestant nasal spray helps reduce the symptoms, but more serious cases require surgery to restore the proper airflow through the nose.
3. Alcohol and smoking
Snoring can be a side effect of drinking too much alcohol before bed or smoking. Drinking alcohol has a relaxing effect on the throat muscles. As a result, you may experience something similar to sleep apnea after a night of excessive drinking, and wake up tired or with a dry, scratchy throat. This can occur even if you only drink occasionally.
Smoking can induce snoring in a slightly different way. Cigarette smoke irritates the soft tissues of your nasal cavity, oral cavity, and throat, and makes them a bit swollen. The swelling narrows the airways, which can result in partial obstruction and snoring. "Smoking can also cause congestion of the nasal passages, forcing the person to have to struggle harder to pull air through," said Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, a sleep expert and professor from the University of Pennsylvania.
Quitting both of these harmful habits has many benefits, and it will likely stop your snoring problem too.
4. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep deprivation alone can make you snore too. When you don’t get enough deep sleep one night, your body will try and compensate for it by producing more hormones in your brain that send you into a state of deep sleep. The unfortunate side effect of deep sleep is the total relaxation of your muscles, including those throat muscles that can block your airways and cause snoring.
So yes, it can spiral into a vicious circle - sleep deprivation causes snoring, and snoring affects your sleep, which makes you more sleep-deprived, etc… But a night of proper sleep can break the cycle. For tips on how to fall asleep and stay asleep all night, read our article - 10 Tips for Better Sleep.
5. Certain sleeping positions
Are you someone who always sleeps on the back? If so, you may have just found the reason why you snore at night. When you sleep on your back or with your head tilted back, gravity pulls your throat muscles down, which narrows your airways, making you snore.
Your anatomy plays a big role too, as this is especially likely to happen in those who already have a naturally narrow throat, a big tongue, or those with excess weight. Likewise, “if the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula) is elongated, airflow can be obstructed and vibration increased,” according to Mayo Clinic. Changing your sleeping position can help prevent snoring in these cases.
6. Nasal congestion
Do you suffer from allergies, sinusitis, or maybe you caught a cold? When something like that happens, the soft tissues in your nose and throat can be swollen or your nose can be completely blocked. All this increases the likelihood of snoring.
Using over-the-counter medications like decongestant sprays, throat lozenges, and allergy medication before you go to bed will help you breathe well all night and deal with the snoring issue in a pinch. Feel better and have a good night tonight and every night!
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