Everyone has experienced snoring at one point or another. Whether it was being kept awake by a significant other or roommate, or being the person who keeps others awake, there are few people who have never encountered snoring. But why do people snore and is there anything that can be done to stop it?
Snoring is produced when structures of the upper airway vibrate, usually as a person inhales. Many different structures can vibrate. These include the tongue, uvula, soft palate, or any other structure that does not have adequate support. The act of sleeping induces a hypotonic state, where the body is completely relaxed. As muscles in the upper airway relax, the airway can become restricted. This causes turbulence as the air struggles to flow, and makes the affected structures vibrate and produce the snoring sound.
So why do people snore? Since not everyone is a snorer, there must be something that determines why one person snores and another does not. There are several risk factors that make it more likely that a person will snore. Obesity is by far the most common. Because of the increased bulk, the airway is already often restricted. This makes it much more likely that the person will snore. Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants also can induce snoring. This is because they can cause the body to relax even more than usual, resulting in snoring. Allergies, asthma, or any illness that involves the upper respiratory system can also cause snoring.
Snoring is not just a problem for the ears of any roommates. A person who snores is at an increased risk of several conditions, the most serious of which is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person’s breathing stops frequently during sleep. Each episode is known as an apnea, and may last from anywhere from 5 seconds to a minute or more. Someone with sleep apnea may have as many as 30 episodes every hour. This not only disrupts sleep, as the person usually wakes when they cannot breathe, resulting in many other health problems ranging from daytime sleepiness and headaches to death if the person is not able to wake themselves during an episode.
So how can someone stop snoring? The first key is to figure out the cause of the snoring. For many people this means losing weight. In addition, avoiding alcohol and other sedatives before bed can help. If snoring persists, there are some dental and even nasal appliances that can be purchased to help keep airways open during sleep. In extreme cases, surgery is also an option, where part of the soft palate is removed to permanently widen the airway.
While the answer to “why do people snore” may not be a simple one, there are ways to determine why someone is snoring frequently. A sleep study can be prescribed by doctors for a definitive diagnosis. Fortunately there are many treatment options for snoring, meaning that for many people, relief can be found quite readily.