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SNORING

Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are caused by blocked airflow in the throat during sleep (image from Illinois Institute of Dental Sleep Medicine)
Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are caused by blocked airflow in the throat during sleep (image from Illinois Institute of Dental Sleep Medicine)
A snore is an involuntary hoarse snorting sound due to obstructed air movement while breathing during sleep. It is caused by vibration of the muscles and soft tissues in the back of the throat, the soft palate (roof of the mouth) and/or the uvula. When these tissues are enlarged or relax too much and touch each other, the airway through the throat is obstructed and, as air tries to pass through, the soft tissues vibrate and this produces the snoring sound. An estimated 45% or people snore at least occasionally, and 25% snore regularly. It is about twice as common in men as in women, and tends to increase with age.

The obstruction of the airways that results in snoring may be caused by one or more of several things: a weakness in the throat muscles; a mispositioned jaw; excessive fat in and around the throat; a deviated septum or other cause of obstructed nasal pathways; small or collapsing nostrils; sinus or catarrh problems, or other allergies; infected tonsils and/or adenoids; a primary sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea; excessively relaxed throat muscles due to alcohol, smoking, drugs or medications; or just poor sleep posture, such as sleeping on one’s back (which causes the tongue to drop to the back of the mouth) or with too many pillows.


Common or “conventional” snoring (i.e. not related to a sleep-disordered breathing problem like sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome) may be annoying, but it not in itself dangerous to the health. Chronic snoring, however, may lead to severe sleep problems and other possible complications, or it may be a symptom of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, which may require direct treatment.

Severe snoring can disturb the snorer’s own sleep as well as that of their sleeping partner (image from The Health Success Site)
Severe snoring can disturb the snorer’s own sleep as well as that of their sleeping partner (image from The Health Success Site)

Conventional snoring is most common in the deepest part of non-REM sleep (stage 3), followed by lighter non-REM sleep (stage 2), and it tends not to occur at all during REM sleep, when breathing is usually at its shallowest. However, snoring resulting from sleep apnea mainly occurs during REM sleep, when the loss of muscle tone is most likely to compromise respiratory systems and cause apneas.

The noise level of snoring is typically around 60 dB (a similar level to loud talking), but it can rise to 80-90 dB (as loud as a pneumatic drill or a lawnmower) or, in extreme and rare cases, to over 110 dB (almost as loud as an airplane talking off). Any noise over around 85 dB for an extended period of time is considered potentially harmful. Severe snoring can disturb the snorer’s own sleep (as well as that of their sleeping partner), even if it is not part of another disorder such as sleep apnea. It has also been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, decreased libido, marital problems, etc.

The simplest treatments for snoring are to lose weight, stop smoking, sleep on one’s side or with a smaller pillow, but a host of over-the-counter medications and treatments are also available, ranging from nasal sprays and nose clips to specialized “anti-snore” clothing and pillows. Specially made dental appliances called mandibular advancement splints (similar to sports mouth guards) are also sold to control snoring, as are continuous positive airway pressure masks (the same as used in the treatment of sleep apnea). In severe cases, surgery options, such as the insertion of dacron pillars into the soft palate, may be considered.