Studies estimate that 45% of men and 30% of women snore on a regular basis.
Snoring is defined as the sound you make when your breathing is blocked while you are asleep. The sound is caused by tissues at the top of your airway that strike each other and vibrate. Snoring is common, especially among older people and people who are overweight. Snoring can also be a sign of a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. You should see your health care provider if you are often tired during the day, don't feel that you sleep well, or wake up gasping.
Frequently, people who do not regularly snore will report snoring after a viral illness, after drinking alcohol, or when taking some medications. Men are more likely to snore or have sleep apnea than are women - sometimes snoring may indicate a serious underlying health condition such as a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea which results in long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway. Serious cases can have total blockage episodes hundreds of times per night!
When you doze off and progress from a light sleep to a deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of your mouth (soft palate), tongue and throat relax. The tissues in your throat can relax enough that they vibrate and may partially obstruct your airway. And, the more narrowed your airway, the more forceful the airflow becomes. This causes tissue vibration to increase, which makes your snoring grows louder.
There are a variety of factors that can lead to snoring, such as the anatomy of your mouth and sinuses, alcohol consumption, allergies, a cold, and your weight. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol close to bedtime or sleeping on your side, can help stop snoring problems.
Snoring can occur during all or only some stages of sleep, however, snoring is most common in REM sleep, because of the loss of muscle tone characteristic of this stage of sleep. When we are asleep gravity acts to pull on all the tissues of the body, but the tissues of the pharynx are relatively soft and floppy. Therefore, 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. Frequently, if the snorer is gently reminded to roll onto his or her side, the tissues are no longer pulled backwards and the snoring lessens.
Tips to help reduce snoring:
Surgery is available as a method of correcting social snoring. Some procedures, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, attempt to widen the airway by removing tissues in the back of the throat, including the uvula and pharynx. These surgeries are quite invasive, however, and there are risks of adverse side effects. The most dangerous risk is that enough scar tissue could form within the throat as a result of the incisions to make the airway more narrow than it was prior to surgery, diminishing the airspace in the velopharynx.
Surgeries are generally successful in reducing snoring. The success of a procedure depends on the problem area causing the snoring. For example, someone with nasal congestion will not have much improvement with a palate procedure and vice versa. The other factor that makes success hard to measure is the definition of success.
If you wake up choking or gasping it may indicate your snoring is caused by a more serious condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
If your child snores, ask your pediatrician about it. Children can have obstructive sleep apnea too. But, nose and throat problems, such as enlarged tonsils, and obesity often underlie habitual snoring in children. Treating these conditions may help your child sleep better.