Is snoring bad?

If someone tells you that you snore, don’t get embarrassed or shrug it off. We all snore from time to time.

In fact, snoring is a common sleep problem. According to Merck Manual, about 57% of men and 40% of women snore.

But while snoring is common, it’s also a sign that something isn’t right with how you are sleeping or with your health. Learn more about what causes snoring, how to stop snoring, and whether snoring is dangerous.

Risk Factors for Snoring

Your chances of snoring increase the older you get. Other risk factors for snoring include:

  • Obesity.
  • Taking alcohol or other sedatives, especially before bed.
  • Chronic, or ongoing nasal congestion or blockage.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Being postmenopausal.
  • Family history.
  • Abnormal structures that can block airflow.

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What Causes Snoring?

There are several reasons why people may snore, including:

Structural changes

You’re more likely to snore if you have certain conditions that can cause structural problems with your airway. These include:

  • Obesity.
  • Deviated nasal septum.
  • Nasal polyps.
  • Rhinitis that causes tissue swelling.
  • An enlarged tongue, known as macroglossia.
  • A lower jaw that is much smaller than normal (micrognathia) or a jaw that is set back causing an obvious and severe overbite (retrognathia).
  • Enlarged soft palate or enlarged lateral pharyngeal wall.

Position-related snoring

Some people find they snore when they sleep on their back, but not on their sides or stomach. That’s because when you sleep on your back, the pull of gravity causes your airway to narrow.

Feeling sick

Colds, the flu, and seasonal allergies can all cause nasal congestion and tissue swelling. This can make it harder for you to breathe at night, which can cause snoring.

Dehydration

When you’re dehydrated, your mouth and nasal passages can dry out. This narrows your airway, making it more likely that you’ll snore.

Alcohol and medications

Alcohol, sedatives, and sleep aids can relax your throat muscles, which in turn block your airway. This can increase your chances of snoring.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Loud and persistent snoring is often a sign and symptom of a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). That’s when your airway becomes partially or fully blocked during sleep. It’s the most common type of sleep-disordered breathing.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, OSA affects 15% of females and 30% of males in the U.S. It also affects 3% of children. But it’s often undiagnosed or untreated.

With OSA, the snoring also sounds like you are gasping for air or choking.

Is Snoring Dangerous?

Snoring is a serious cause for concern when it’s caused by OSA. That’s because OSA can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart attack, and depression.

Symptoms of OSA include:

  • Daytime sleepiness or falling asleep during the day.
  • Waking up not feeling refreshed.
  • Headache upon waking.
  • Unexplained fatigue.
  • Insomnia—trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory problems.
  • Mood swings or depression.
  • Strange dreams.
  • Waking up often during the night to urinate.

Is Snoring Bad for Your Health?

If you have snoring that’s not due to OSA, you may still wonder if it’s bad for your health.

Occasional snoring, especially if it’s due to something temporary like a cold or allergies, isn’t dangerous. But it can still be bad for your health if it’s causing you not to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can affect your mood and cause long-term problems with your physical and mental health.

When Should You See a Doctor About Snoring?

You should see your doctor about snoring if it gets in the way of getting a good night’s sleep. You should also see a doctor if you have any symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

To figure out why you are snoring, they may refer you to a sleep medicine specialist. You may need a sleep medicine study, also known as a polysomnography. It’s the only way to figure out if you have sleep apnea.

How to Stop Snoring

There aren’t many studies on what may help with occasional snoring that’s not related to underlying health issues. General lifestyle changes that may help reduce snoring include:

  • Drinking enough water during the day to keep your nasal passages and mouth moist overnight.
  • Losing weight if you are overweight or obese. Obesity increases your risk of sleep apnea.
  • Sleeping on your side or stomach instead of on your back.
  • Sleeping with your head elevated. You can use a pillow wedge to prop it up.
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedatives for several hours before bedtime. This includes prescription sleep aids and over-the-counter drugs labeled “nighttime” or “PM.”
  • Practice good sleep health.

Otherwise, how to stop snoring depends on what is causing you to snore.

For nasal congestion

Medicine that reduces congestion or opens up your nasal passages may help you breathe easier. These include nasal decongestants or nasal sprays. Being able to breathe better may help you snore less when you are sick with colds or flu.

Medications to control seasonal allergies can also help clear up nasal congestion and reduce snoring.

Using a humidifier in your bedroom can keep your nasal passages moist, which can help relieve congestion.

For structural changes

Depending on the structural change, you may need surgery to correct the problem. This could include surgery to fix a deviated nasal septum or to remove nasal polyps.

Oral appliances — devices you wear in your mouth — may also help with snoring. These include:

  • Mandibular-advancement devices, which push the jaw forward.
  • Tongue-retaining devices, which help keep your tongue from blocking your airway.

For sleep apnea

Wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep is the most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea.

The CPAP machine covers your nose or your nose and mouth (depending on which style you find comfortable). It provides a constant flow of air through tubing and a mask into your airway.

The pressure holds your airway tissues open so that your airway doesn’t collapse. This helps you to breathe better when you sleep.

The CPAP machine also records data while you’re wearing it. This data helps your doctor monitor how well it’s working for you. Based on this data, your doctor can adjust the pressure you need.

If you are overweight or obese and have OSA, your doctor may recommend you lose weight. A reduction in your body mass index, or BMI, may help reduce snoring related to OSA.

Oral appliances may also help to manage mild OSA.

Sources

Diagnosis and Treatment of Snoring in Adults. Deutsches Arzteblatt International. 2019. Link.

Snoring. Merck Manuals. Link.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea. American Sleep Apnea Association. Link.

Macroglossia. NIH. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Link.

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