What causes snoring and how can it be treated?

Snoring is very common and isn’t usually a sign of anything serious, although it can affect the quality of your sleep – and can also affect your partner’s sleep. Around 45% of adults snore occasionally, with 25% being regular snorers. 

As snoring often gets worse as you get older and can disturb your partner, it’s a good idea to understand what causes it and what could help reduce your snoring so you can both get a good night’s sleep. 

What is snoring?

Snoring is the name for noisy breathing while asleep. It can cause a snorting, grunting, wheezing or rattling sound.

In a small number of cases, snoring can be a sign of a more serious health condition that may need treatment, so see your GP if your snoring is getting worse or is persistent.

What causes snoring?

Snoring is caused by air flowing over the relaxed muscles in your throat when you sleep, which can cause the tissues in your airway to vibrate as you breathe. The vibrations of these tissues narrow your airways, which causes a noise when the air is pushed through.

Who is more likely to snore?

While most people will snore occasionally, some people are more prone to snoring. You’re more likely to snore as you get older because the muscle tone in your throat decreases and causes your airways to narrow while you’re sleeping. Other factors that can make you more likely to snore include:

  • Being male — men are more likely to snore than women
  • Being overweight — excess weight increases your risk of snoring and sleep-related breathing disorders 
  • Blocked nose — allergies or a cold can cause stuffiness in your nose, which blocks airflow and can make you snore
  • Drinking alcohol — this causes your muscles to relax, which restricts airflow through your airways; many people find that they snore heavily if they drink before bed
  • Genetics — snoring runs in families so you’re more likely to snore if you have a parent who snores
  • Pregnancy — pregnant women are more likely to snore because of hormonal changes and weight gain

How is snoring diagnosed?

In most cases, you don’t need to see a GP about your snoring as it isn’t usually serious.

However, if you’re experiencing persistent snoring that is interrupting your or your partner’s sleep, you should discuss it with your GP.

What are the complications of snoring?

Snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). If someone has OSA, they will often snore loudly followed by periods of silence where breathing stops or nearly stops. This pause in breathing can make you wake up and you may wake up with a snort. 

Not everyone who snores has OSA, but if your snoring is accompanied by other symptoms, you should talk to your GP. OSA symptoms to look out for include:

  • Chest pain, choking or gasping at night
  • Difficulty concentrating or morning headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Restless sleep
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Sore throat when you wake up

What can I do to stop snoring?

If your snoring isn’t a symptom of OSA, there are a few things you can do to try to stop your snoring or at least reduce the effect it’s having on your partner:

  • Ask your partner to wear earplugs
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol, especially before bed
  • Don’t take sleeping pills
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight
  • Quit smoking
  • Sleep on your side — special pillows or bed wedges can help with this

Are there medical treatments for snoring?

If you’ve tried the above and they haven’t helped, if your snoring is seriously affecting your partner or if your snoring is accompanied by OSA symptoms, you should speak to your GP. They will be able to investigate the cause and find a suitable treatment for your snoring

Treatments can include mandibular advancement devices to bring your tongue forward and stop it from blocking your throat, a vestibular shield to make you breathe through your nose or a chin strap to hold your mouth closed. If your snoring is caused by blocked or narrow airways in your nose, you may be given nasal dilators to hold your nose open or a spray to reduce swelling.

If these treatments don’t work and depending on the underlying cause, your doctor may recommend surgery such as removing your tonsils, removing nasal polyps or straightening a crooked nose. Other surgeries include tightening the soft tissue that contributes to snoring or removing part or all of the uvula (the tissue that dangles at the back of your throat).

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.