- The causes of snoring include a deviated septum, sleep apnea, and sleep deprivation.
- Sleeping on your back can also cause snoring, so you may have to shift your sleep position.
- You may also be at a higher risk of snoring if you are a smoker.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
If your family complains about your loud snoring, you’re not alone – about half of all Americans report that they snore at night.
Snoring happens when your airway is obstructed by the tissues in your nose, mouth, or throat and your breath can’t flow properly. This makes the tissues in your airway vibrate against each other, causing a rattling or snorting sound.
There are many reasons why you may snore – smoking, missing out on sleep, or having a deviated septum can all increase your risk. Here are five reasons why you might snore and how you can address the problem.
1. Sleeping on your back
When you lie on your back, gravity can cause your airway muscles to collapse back against your throat tissue, making you snore, says Indira Gurubhagavatula, MD, a sleep specialist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
But not everyone who sleeps on their back will snore. According to Gurubhagavatula, sleeping on your back can cause snoring only:
- If your airway is already narrow to begin with – this can be due to a buildup of fatty tissue after weight gain or if your airway is naturally small.
- If your tongue is disproportionately large and takes up too much room in your throat.
- If your upper airway muscles and tongue relax a lot during sleep.
If you notice that you snore most when you’re on your back, you can try a few options to shift your sleep position to your side or stomach:
- Use support pillows to avoid rolling onto your back.
- Using a wedge pillow to keep yourself propped up enough to avoid snoring.
2. Sleep deprivation
An estimated 33% of US adults don’t get enough quality sleep, and if you’re one of them, your brain may try to make up for it by increasing how much deep, restorative sleep you get per night. Deep sleep is the third stage of non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep where your muscles are the most relaxed and your brain waves are slowest.
“Snoring tends to happen more during these ‘deep sleep’ stages,” because the muscles in your throat, tongue, and the roof of your mouth relax more, says Gurubhagavatula.
3. Sleep apnea
Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, a condition that affects roughly 2-9% of US adults wherein the muscles in the throat relax too much, blocking airflow.
“When this happens, oxygen cannot get in for a few seconds, until the brain recognizes the problem and forces a brief arousal from sleep,” Gurubhagavatula says. This means that along with snoring, you completely stop breathing for a few moments.
This can happen many times throughout the night, causing you to snore and wake up repeatedly. Sleep apnea can be a serious condition – it can lower your quality of sleep and limit how much oxygen your body gets.
“Smoking can irritate the tissues of the upper airway and cause swelling, which reduces the space available,” Gurubhagavatula says. This crowding makes it easier for your nose and throat tissues to collapse together and cause snoring.
“Smoking can also cause congestion of the nasal passages, forcing the person to have to struggle harder to pull air through,” causing your upper airway to collapse inward and vibrate against other tissue leading to snoring, says Gurubhagavatula.
“Quitting smoking is the most healthful way to address this problem,” Gurubhagavatula says.
5. Deviated septum
A deviated septum occurs when the wall between your two nasal passages is shifted toward one side. Up to 80% of people have slightly deviated septums, but only severely shifted septums are likely to cause symptoms.
When you have a deviated septum, you need to generate more suction to get air to pass through the narrower nasal passage, says Gurubhagavatula.
“This increased force of suction can cause the throat muscles in the upper airway to collapse inward and vibrate,” causing you to snore, Gurubhagavatula says.
If you have a deviated septum, you’ll need to see your doctor to determine the best treatment. In some cases, you may need surgery to correct the shape of your nasal passage, says. Taking over-the-counter nasal decongestant medications may also help reduce snoring.
There are many different reasons why you may snore, including missing out on sleep or medical conditions like sleep apnea.
If snoring interrupts your sleep, it’s important to get treatment, as a lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can cause issues like morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, and elevated blood pressure.
“Treatment can help people feel better and function better at work, at home and in their relationships,” Gurubhagavatula says.