Medically reviewed by Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Lauren is a board-certified adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. Lauren has done NP clinical practicums focusing on the adolescent, adult, and geriatric populations in internal medicine, long-term care, and in outpatient oncology/bone marrow transplant. Lauren received a BA from Assumption University, a BSN from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and her MS in Nursing from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. She is certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Snoring is a common and generally harmless sound created when parts of your airway vibrate against each other because of muscle relaxation during night breathing. However, thunderous snoring can be accompanied by a more dangerous condition where you stop breathing, interrupting your sleep and leaving you much more tired than usual. Learn more about the causes for snoring and reasons for snoring when in mild cases. Snoring accompanied by sleep apnea can be treated to get you a better night’s sleep.

What Causes Snoring? Common Causes

Snoring is caused by a narrowed airway in your throat when you are asleep, allowing tissues to touch as you breathe in your relaxed, sleeping state. This touching causes vibration as air passes through, creating the sounds of snoring. Understanding why people snore has to do with how sound is made in our breathing, just at a much louder level.

The reasons for snoring are more complicated since some people with the common causes of snoring in their profile still don’t snore. However, scientists and medical professionals have noted that certain factors seem to predict a greater likelihood that snoring will occur.

Factors that put you at higher risk of snoring

While this is the technical source of the snoring sound, certain factors increase the possibility of snoring, those including:

  • Certain body or anatomy types: Some people simply have mouths (specifically the soft palate), throats, and breathing that is more conducive to snoring. Certain factors in one’s body increase the likelihood of snoring, from being male to being overweight, but sometimes it is simply a hereditary issue.
  • Alcohol use near sleep time: Drinking alcohol before sleeping is correlated with more snoring. It seems to further relax the muscles that would otherwise remain tighter and keep the airways clear.

How Can Snoring Be Prevented? 

Given that many (nearly half!) adults snore occasionally, there are many suggestions for preventing snoring. In mild and moderate snoring situations, you might try a few of the tried-and-true methods before looking into anything medical:

  • Sleeping in a different position often offers less pressure on the airway from gravity or pressure in a different direction, reducing airway blockage.
  • If you found a correlation between gaining weight and snoring more, putting some effort into losing weight may also reduce your snoring. However, plenty of people snore at all weights, so this may or may not help you in particular.
  • Avoiding being extremely tired helps you avoid snoring since deep, tired, heavy sleep makes it harder for the muscles to do the work of maintaining an open airway. This means getting enough sleep every night may reduce how often you snore.
  • Many people find success in reducing snoring using over-the-counter nasal strips or taking a hot shower in the evenings to clear out the fluids in their nasal passages. Drinking enough water can also be helpful.
  • Lastly, consider replacing old bedding, like pillows or a mattress, or washing your sheets more often than you do now. Doing this will help get rid of allergens that may cause inflammation in your nose and throat, leading to snoring.

For partners who are frustrated by snoring after trying these options, they may consider sleeping with earplugs or a white noise machine to tone down the snoring’s sound. However, it can also help to see whether sleep apnea is a concern if no lifestyle changes impact the snoring duration and loudness.

Snoring & Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

Mild to moderate snoring may simply be a small nuisance, especially if it happens only occasionally during times, for instance, of nasal congestion due to the common cold. When your family member or partner notices that you snore loudly and abruptly stop, you might consider whether your snoring is also connected to Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA.

Sleep apnea involves complete blockage to the extent that you briefly stop breathing during sleep, making it more disruptive than just a noise. Some people find that not being able to get restful sleep, gasping at night, morning headaches or a range of other sleep deprivation-related symptoms are cues that they should find out whether their airway is being obstructed to the point of creating this condition. Sleep apnea is linked to many serious diseases. If you present any of the symptoms described above, you should seek medical treatment.  Treating OSA is an excellent way to get back your daytime alertness and concentration and prevent dangerous oxygen reduction during sleep.

What Are the Treatments

For mild to moderate snoring with no other OSA symptoms, your doctor may suggest some lifestyle shifts. Anywhere from losing some weight to avoiding consuming alcohol or sleeping on your side or stomach can sometimes reduce snoring.

When you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, you may find it helpful to sleep with a CPAP machine. The machine is connected to a mask that pushes air into your airway. The mild pressure of the air helps keep the airway open and helps you avoid apnea and snoring at the same time.

There are other solutions, including a device worn in the mouth to help you keep your air passage open during sleep. There is also the option to have surgery to change the anatomical features that make you prone to airway obstruction. You should speak with your doctor about side effects and the necessity of these elements, especially if OSA doesn’t accompany your snoring.

Final Thoughts

Snoring on its own, especially if it is occasional or mild, is extremely common and can often be avoided through small changes like sleep positioning. The reasons why people start asking what causes snoring and why do I snore in particular usually have to do with persistent, loud snoring that disrupts a partner’s sleep or if the snorer is waking up exhausted. In these cases, the reasons for snoring may be related to Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which can be diagnosed and treated with the help of a medical professional.