To fully understand this subject, we need to deal with two separate areas of information – the cause of the sound of snoring, and the inherent cause of the problem itself. There is no single answer to the second part of this question as there are a number of reasons that can contribute overall to the cause; however, the distinctive snoring sound that we all know so well is created by a narrowing of the airways in the throat, and the resultant vibration as air is forced through the gap during sleep. Basically, we have a situation of cause and effect.
Snoring is a problem for many of us and the majority of people snore at some time or other. Men are more likely to have a snoring problem than women and there is a distinct tendency for the worst sufferers to be overweight and also older – the emphasis being on those of middle age - after which time the throat can tend to narrow, particularly in men.
The snoring sound is caused by the soft palate vibrating as the lungs are put under pressure trying to take oxygen through a restricted airway – usually because the muscles that keep it firm have relaxed or lost their shape, and the excess tissue therefore closes to obstruct the flow of air.
Areas of tissue that can be affected in this way include the following:
Your nasal passages – if blocked you breathe through your mouth
The soft palate – a layer of tissue at the back of the throat
The base of your tongue – the tongue is a muscle and can slip back
Tonsils – the two glands above the tongue at the back of the throat
The Uvula – a small section of tissue hanging from the soft palate
Even a heavy cold can temporarily cause the airway to be partially blocked but this condition will obviously clear naturally and quickly and snoring will cease or reduce accordingly. If however, snoring persists and is left totally untreated it will get worse as time goes on. It appears that the continual vibration damages blood vessels that supply the muscles of the head and neck and gradually causes them to weaken.
A further physical problem that may cause you to snore is allergic rhinitis where the inside of the nose becomes very highly swollen due to an allergic reaction to either dust or pollen in the atmosphere. Breathing will then occur automatically be through the mouth instead if this is the case.
The effect therefore is easy to be aware of unless you live alone. As for the underlying causes, a great deal of new information has been discovered about snoring as we have now realised how important a symptom it may be for other things. It can signify various highly dangerous medical problems – either in place already, or in the making. The most dangerous of these is sleep apnoea, where the person actually stops breathing many times per night. This is now closely linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and numerous other dangerous conditions that are now emerging – most recently, blindness and glaucoma.
There are numerous factors that can have caused snoring to occur, either singly or jointly, and there are some of these that can be easily corrected, whereas others are a little more difficult to resolve. The list of things that put you at increased risk of snoring includes the following key things:
Overweight and out of shape
There may be reasons for being overweight that are related to your health such as low mobility, but often this is a direct result of the combination of lack of exercise and diet – either overeating or eating the wrong food – or both of these. Snoring is particularly common it would appear if your neck size is 17” plus.
Drinking alcohol late at night
It’s commonly thought that a nightcap will help you sleep but this needs to be firstly done in moderation, and secondly not too late at night. Regular alcohol intake not only affects weight of course, but causes relaxation in the throat muscles which in turn will cause you to snore as described previously.
Tobacco affects throat muscles in the same way as alcohol, as well as being related to other major health problems in breathing such as emphysema and COPD. Other results from smoking are of well known.
If you sleep flat on your back this can cause you further problems as the flesh on your throat can relax and block the airway – try to sleep on your side and use an appropriate pillow to raise your head.
Your age and build
As you move towards being middle age and past that age your muscle tone will tend to decrease and this causes relaxation in the throat muscles. Combine this with an element of being overweight and the resultant fatty tissue and poor muscle tone will contribute.
Sedatives and anti-depressants
Certain non-prescription medications can do more harm than good when it comes to sleeping well and having good sleep hygiene patterns. Make sure that you always take good professional advice as to which medication to take.
It is sometimes said that snoring is often the result of an over-indulgence in some of life's great pleasures, and this may be true, but unfortunately life is about compromise, and although they may be enjoyable, they must be controlled when your health is at risk so make sure that your snoring does not get out of hand and that it is not the sign of something dangerous – and try to reduce its severity .
John Redfern worked for 15 years at leading London Advertising agencies writing on many international products and markets during that time, before moving into a consultancy role, where he has gained long experience of writing on important matters of personal health.
John has had in-depth involvement in a broad spectrum of subjects in this area, covering all possible age groups.
Through his work as a consultant to No Snore Zone, John has acquired an in-depth knowledge of snoring and sleep apnoea, and the many serious health problems with which they are so closely associated.
In addition, he has spent time developing projects for the British National Health Service, some major educational groups and authorities, and various voluntary organizations and manufacturers whose aim is to focus on family health, fitness and well-being.