What is Snoring? – An Introduction
Partial airway obstruction causes soft tissue to vibrate and make noise.
Nearly everyone snores at some point. Snoring can affect young and old, men and women, and people of all shapes and sizes. Roughly 40% of men and 20% of women snore – that’s over 2 billion inhabitants of planet Earth.
This habit is often shrugged off as annoying and embarrassing but otherwise nothing to be worried about. In reality, snoring can affect so much of life, having physical, mental and social repercussions.
But what is a snore?
Q. What is a snoring sound?
A. Vibrating soft tissue
Snoring is the sound of the soft palate and other soft tissue in the upper airway vibrating. This can include the uvula, tonsils, adenoids, nasal turbinates and other surrounding tissue.
These vibrations happen when air can’t move freely through your airway which causes the floppy soft tissue to flap and make noise.
Q. Why does snoring only happen during sleep?
When we fall asleep, many muscles in our body relax. This is true of the muscles in our airway.
Being still in our sleep prevents us from doing damage to ourselves and others by acting out our dreams or walking around when not fully conscious. Therefore our muscles – including those in our upper airway – are paralysed when we sleep.
Because we are lying down while we sleep, gravity compounds this relaxation to set up snoring – whether it’s your jaw falling open, your tongue falling back or your throat giving way to the weight around it.
All of us relax when we sleep – so why doesn’t everyone snore? Snoring occurs when this normal relaxation is added to abnormal airway obstruction.
Q. Why doesn’t air flow freely?
A. Obstruction at various places in the airway
Airflow becomes turbulent when there is an obstruction in the airway causing a partial blockage.
The obstruction can be in several areas in the upper airway, sometimes concurrently :
Tongue. When this falls back, it can block your airway.
Soft palate. This is the soft tissue behind the harder roof of your mouth. Excess floppy tissue here stops air flowing freely.
Nose. The nose is the more efficient way of breathing, and when dysfunctional, mouth breathing ensues and heightens the risk of snoring. Breathing through a partially blocked nose can also create whistling and popping sounds, or even cause suction that collapses your airway.
Knowing your obstruction is the starting point in identifying what causes your snoring.
If you are lucky, there is one cause for your snoring. You can tackle this and sleep quietly. More often than not, multiple factors accumulate to cause your obstruction.
Q. What causes airway obstruction?
A. Many different factors can influence snoring
Understanding what causes your airway obstruction is vital for matching snoring solutions to you. This is what we strive to help with at SnoreLab.
The reasons for snoring are made of lifestyle factors that you can control PLUS physical traits that are beyond your influence.
Factors that you CAN control
Many lifestyle factors need scrutinising if you want to identify the causes of your snoring:
Bodyweight. The heavier you are, the more likely you are to snore as excess weight compresses your airway.
Sleeping position. Sleeping on your back is a big risk factor for snoring. This position allows gravity to compress your airway more than when you sleep on your side.
Allergies. Allergic reactions cause nasal blockage and airway inflammation. Allergy sufferers have trouble breathing through their nose and therefore have to switch to noisier mouth-breathing.
Alcohol. Depressant drugs like alcohol make muscles relax. Relaxed airway muscles are more prone to disrupting airflow.
Smoking. Cigarette smoke irritates the airways, causing inflammation which can lead to obstruction.
Common cold. Similar to allergies, colds mean stuffy noses and mouth-breathing.
Medication. Certain drugs used to control blood pressure, sleeping pills and even some medicated nasal sprays can increase nasal congestion and relax airway muscles.
Factors that you CAN’T control
Unfortunately, in some cases, the obstruction is simply a part of your anatomy and genes.
Certain face shapes predispose people to snoring. For example, those with a pronounced overbite have a recessed jaw which pushes the tongue further back into the airway, making it more prone to falling back and causing a blockage.
Age. Older people are more at risk of snoring. This is because as we age we lose muscle tone in much of our body – this includes the muscles of the airway.
Sex. Men are more likely to snore than women. This is due to several reasons including how fat is differently distributed, contrasts in male and female airway anatomy and hormones.
Hormonal balance. Some hormones are protective against snoring, whereas others confer heightened risk. Menopause is a time in many women’s lives where snoring starts for the first time. This is because of a decrease in hormones that help to prevent snoring.
Thankfully, these uncontrollable elements are usually associated with heightened risk but not a direct cause.
By understanding the basis of snoring you can gain better insight into what makes you snore. Just as snoring impacts upon your life, your lifestyle impacts upon your snoring.
There are many snoring remedies and solutions available, including products that enthusiastically tell you that this will stop you snoring. Many of them do work very effectively, but only if they are well matched to you and your snoring.
Understanding how your snoring works and finding your specific causes is the first step towards healthier, quieter nights.