While we are asleep, turbulent airflow can cause the tissues of the nose and throat to vibrate and give rise to snoring. Essentially, snoring is a sound resulting from turbulent airflow that causes tissues to vibrate during sleep
What causes snoring?
While we are breathing, air flows in and out in a steady stream from our nose or mouth to our lungs. There are relatively few sounds when we are sitting and breathing quietly. When we exercise, the air moves more quickly and produces some sounds as we breathe. This happens because air is moving in and out of the nose and mouth more quickly and this results in more turbulence to the airflow and some vibration of the tissues in the nose and mouth.
When we are asleep, the area at the back of the throat sometimes narrows. The same amount of air passing through this smaller opening can cause the tissues surrounding the opening to vibrate, which in turn can cause the sounds of snoring. Different people who snore have different reasons for the narrowing. The narrowing can be in the nose, mouth, or throat.
People who snore often have too much throat and nasal tissue, or “floppy” tissue that is more prone to vibrate. The position of the tongue can also get in the way of smooth breathing. Evaluating how and when you snore will help you pinpoint whether the cause of your snoring is within your control or not. Enlist your sleep partner or keep a sleep diary to help you determine the possible cause of your snoring.
Causes out of our control:
- Heredity – A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids and other physical attributes which contribute to snoring can be hereditary.
- Being middle-aged or beyond – As you age, your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases.
- Being male – Men have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore.
- Allergies, asthma, a cold, or sinus infections – Blocked airways make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring.
Causes within our control:
- Being overweight or out of shape – Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone contribute to snoring.
- A history of smoking – Smoking (or exposure to second-hand smoke) relaxes muscles and creates nasal congestion.
- Alcohol or medications – Alcohol and medications increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.
- Sleeping posture – Sleeping flat on your back allows the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway.
- Lose weight – Losing weight is often a very effective cure for mild to moderate snoring. Even a little bit of weight loss can reduce fatty tissue in the back of the throat and decrease snoring.
- Sleep on your side – If you sleep on your back and snore mildly, sleeping on your side might cure your snoring altogether.
- Elevate your head – Try elevating the head of your bed four inches, which may make breathing easier and encourage your tongue and jaw to move forward. Sleep without a pillow (or with a specially designed pillow) to make sure your neck muscles are not crimped.
- Avoid certain foods, alcohol and medications before bed – Alcohol and certain medications increase relaxation of throat and tongue muscles, which makes snoring more likely. Sleeping pills or tranquilizers may help you sleep, but they will also relax your muscles and increase the chance of snoring. High-fat milk products or soy milk products cause mucus to build up in the throat which can lead to snoring as well.
- Clear your nasal passages – Having a stuffy nose makes inhalation difficult and creates a vacuum in your throat, which in turn leads to snoring. Nasal decongestants or nasal strips may help you breathe more easily while sleeping. Antihistamines can help with allergies, but will relax throat muscles and cause snoring.
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