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What causes snoring at night?

Updated on April 10, 2016

Snoring is a widespread problem that affects about 45% of men and 33% of women. It can negatively impact your sleep and disturb your partner. If you or your partner snores, you’re probably anxious to find a solution and get back to sleeping soundly. The first step to curing snoring is to understand what causes snoring. The truth is that there are many causes of snoring. Some long-term causes make it likely that you’ll snore every night. Other factors can cause snoring for just a night or two, or they can worsen habitual snoring.

In the rest of this article, you’ll find an overview of the different causes of snoring. Take a look through and see which seem to apply to you. This can help you to determine what your next step should be so that you can stop snoring.

The Basics on what causes snoring

In essence, snoring occurs when air movement through your airways is obstructed. This causes your respiratory structures to vibrate, creating the aggravating sound. Although snoring can occur while you’re breathing through either your mouth or your nose, it most commonly occurs when the nasal air passage is narrowed, causing the airflow to make tissues within the nasal cavity vibrate.

There are a number of causes that can result in your nasal air passage becoming obstructed. Some of these are long-term, health-related issues that can lead to snoring every night. Others, such as colds or even what you had to drink, can make you snore for just one night or a few nights at a time. We’ll start by going through the long-term factors and then move into the short-term snoring causes.

Anatomy of the Soft Palate and Uvula

The soft palate is the soft tissue along the back of the roof of your mouth. The uvula is the piece of tissue that hands down from the palate at the back of your throat. The palate and uvula extend back past your mouth into the oral cavity. In long-term snorers, the soft palate is the most common culprit for blocking airflow and causing snoring.

During the day, the soft palate helps to channel air through the pharynx and towards the lungs. When you’re asleep, the soft palate (along with other muscles in your body) relaxes, which can cause it to obstruct airflow. This largely depends on your individual mouth anatomy. Some people have an elongated soft palate or uvula, which makes them more likely to block the airflow. Some people who are overweight may also have extra tissue in the back of their throat. This, together with the soft palate, can narrow the airway and cause snoring.

Your Jaw and Nose impact snoring chances

The structure of other facial features can also make you more likely to snore. If you have a deviated nasal septum (the partition between your nostrils), the air you breathe in is going to be partially obstructed, which can cause snoring. A mispositioned jaw can also obstruct your airways and lead to vibrations. If you have trouble getting rid of snoring, it may be at least in part because of your facial anatomy.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea relation

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes you to have periods of shallow breathing or breaks in your breathing while sleeping. In people with sleep apnea, the throat tissues partially block the airway, which is what stops you from breathing normally. This also causes snoring. People with sleep apnea will often alternate between snoring loudly and breathing shallowly, rather than snoring continuously. If you have sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and discuss a comprehensive sleep treatment that will also address your snoring.

In addition to the previous long-term causes of snoring, there are a number of short-term causes that can make you snore. If you are already prone to snoring, these may make your snoring worse. If you don’t usually snore, you may find that these factors cause you to snore on particular nights.

Alcohol and snoring

One of the main causes of temporary snoring is alcohol consumption. If you drink too much alcohol close to going to bed, the alcohol can cause your mouth and throat muscles to relax. This can lead your soft palate and uvula to obstruct your airway, causing snoring. If you think alcohol may be the cause of your snoring, try to cut down on how much you drink and avoid drinking too close to bedtime.

Medication and snoring

Like alcohol, some kinds of medication can cause your muscles to relax more when you sleep. You can check the side effects of your medicine or ask your doctor if any of your medications may be causing you to snore. If you’re about to start taking a medication that may induce snoring, you might want to consider looking into snoring prevention methods.

Colds and Allergies

Colds are another very common cause for temporary snoring. Colds do a number of things to worsen or cause snoring. The nose is full of passages called nasal turbinates, which regulate air flow through the nose by either swelling or contracting.

A number of factors, however, can cause the turbinates to expand for longer than normal, constricting airflow more than they should. Colds, allergies, nasal congestion, and even cold air can all cause this to happen. This is why when you have a stuffy nose, you have trouble breathing properly. The constricted airways also lead to the vibrations of snoring.

In addition, colds and other nasal congestion often cause people to breathe through their mouths. Unfortunately, breathing through the mouth leads to louder vibrations in the nasal tissues and more extreme snoring.

These are the most common causes of snoring. A few other factors, such as aging and sleeping on your back, can also worsen snoring. Now that you understand what causes snoring, you can do your best to avoid snoring causes, or take action to stop snoring.

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