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Why Do Men Snore More than Women?

Updated on July 30, 2017

Much to the frustration of many sleeping partners, snoring is a very common problem. In the United States alone, it affects about 90 million adults. Altogether, about one third of men snore, and one fifth of women snore. The question is: why do so many more men than women snore? It’s not just a stereotype.

The exact statistics may vary between studies, but they generally find that men snore significantly more frequently than women. There are a number of factors, ranging from biological differences to behavioral factors, that make men a bit more likely to snore than women.

Understanding Snoring

In order to understand why men are more likely to snore, you’ll first need to understand what causes snoring. Snoring occurs when your airway is partially blocked. This can occur in the nasal passages or in the throat, but it most commonly happens because the soft palate in the roof of the mouth or the tongue relaxes backwards during sleep, restricting the flow of air. This means that the air has to move through a smaller airway, making it flow more quickly. This causes the soft tissues around the airway to vibrate, which is what creates the characteristic snoring sound.

The Voice Box

Typically, men’s voice boxes are lower in their throat than women’s. This means that there’s a larger space behind their tongue. Some theorists propose that this is what makes men more likely to snore. Because women have a smaller space, if a woman’s tongue relaxes backwards, it’s likely to completely block her airway. This will cause the woman to wake up and reposition, rather than snore for a long time.

Men, on the other hand, have more room. If a man’s tongue relaxes backwards, it will only partially block his airway. This allows him to keep breathing, so he’ll stay asleep. Because the flow of air is partially blocked, he’ll be snoring while he sleeps soundly.

Pharynges

Another theory holds that the difference is primarily due to the differences in men and women’s pharynges. The pharynx is the part of your throat behind your nasal cavity and mouth, above the esophagus and larynx. Men typically have larger pharynges than women, which in theory gives them more space in their airways.

However, men see larger changes in the size of their pharynges when lying down than women do. This means that when men are asleep, their airway size will be significantly smaller, contributing to the restriction of air. And while the upper airway gets smaller with age for both men and women, this change seems to be more significant for men. This is one reason why it is more common for men to snore during and after middle age.

Behavioral Factors affecting snoring

For any person, male or female, your behavior and habits influence how likely you are to snore. Some of the most common behavioral causes of snoring are alcohol, smoking, and being overweight. Alcohol functions as a sedative and, particularly when drunk close to falling asleep, causes your muscles to relax more. This makes it more likely that your tongue and soft palate will partially obstruct your airway.

If you are overweight, you likely have more tissue around your throat. This can make your airway narrower, which again makes snoring more likely. While these factors affect both men and women, it seems that men are slightly more prone to the behaviors that make snoring more likely. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2013 about 70% of men in America were overweight or obese, while about 57.6% of women were.

The Kaiser Foundation also found that in the United States, 20.7% of men and 15.7% of women smoke. A 2010 study across 25 countries found that both drinking and high-volume drinking were more prevalent among men than women. These risk factors mean that men are more likely to snore.

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