Snoring is a loud, hoarse, harsh breathing sound that occurs during sleep. Snoring is common in adults.
Loud, frequent snoring can make it hard for both you and your bed partner to get enough sleep. Sometimes snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.
When you sleep, the muscles in your throat relax and your tongue slips back in your mouth. Snoring occurs when something blocks air from flowing freely through your mouth and nose. When you breathe, the walls of your throat vibrate, causing the sound of snoring.
There are several factors that can lead to snoring, including:
- Being overweight. The extra tissue in your neck puts pressure on your airways.
- Tissue swelling during the last month of pregnancy.
- Crooked or bent nasal septum, which is the wall of bone and cartilage between your nostrils.
- Growths in your nasal passages (nasal polyps).
- Stuffy nose from a cold or allergies.
- Swelling in the roof of your mouth (soft palate) or the uvula, the piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of your mouth. These areas may also be longer than normal.
- Swollen adenoids and tonsils that block the airways. This is a common cause of snoring in children.
- A tongue that is wider at the base, or a larger tongue in a smaller mouth.
- Poor muscle tone. This may be caused by aging or by using sleeping pills, antihistamines, or alcohol at bedtime.
Sometimes snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.
- This occurs when you completely or partly stop breathing for more than 10 seconds while you sleep.
- This is followed by a sudden snort or gasp when you start breathing again. During that time you wake up without realizing it.
- Then you start to snore again.
- This cycle usually happens many times a night, which makes it hard to sleep deeply.
Sleep apnea can make it especially hard for your bed partner to get a good night's sleep.
To help reduce snoring:
- Avoid alcohol and medicines that make you sleepy at bedtime.
- DO NOT sleep flat on your back. Try to sleep on your side instead. You can sew a golf or tennis ball into the back of your night clothes. If you roll over, the pressure of the ball will help remind you to stay on your side. Over time, side sleeping will become a habit.
- Lose weight, if you are overweight.
- Try over-the-counter, drug-free nasal strips that help widen the nostrils. (These are not treatments for sleep apnea.)
If your health care provider has given you a breathing device, use it on a regular basis. Follow your provider's advice for treating allergy symptoms.
When to Call the Doctor
Talk to your provider if you:
- Have problems with attention, concentration, or memory
- Wake up in the morning not feeling rested
- Feel very drowsy during the day
- Have morning headaches
- Gain weight
- Tried self-care for snoring, and it has not helped
You should also talk with your provider if you have episodes of no breathing (apnea) during the night. Your partner can tell you if you are snoring loudly or making choking and gasping sounds.
Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your snoring, your provider may refer you to a sleep specialist.
Huon L-K, Guilleminault C. Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome. In: Friedman M, Jacobowitz O, eds. Sleep Apnea and Snoring. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 2.
Stoohs R, Gold AR. Snoring and pathologic upper airway resistance syndromes. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 112.
Wakefield TL, Lam DJ, Ishman SL. Sleep apnea and sleep disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 18.
Review Date 7/11/2019
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.