What the Research Says

Snoring occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, like your tonsils, tongue, or soft palette, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, creating hoarse or harsh sounds. It usually happens when you sleep on your back.

Snoring affects approximately 90 million American adults, 37 million on a regular basis. People most at risk are males and those who are overweight, but snoring is also a problem for women.

Snoring usually becomes more serious as people age. It can lead to fragmented and un-refreshing sleep which translates into poor daytime function, like tiredness, irritability and lack of energy.

While you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax, your tongue falls backward, and your throat becomes narrow and "floppy." As you breathe, the walls of the throat begin to vibrate, generally when you breathe in. These vibrations lead to the characteristic sound of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring.

Sometimes the walls of the throat collapse completely so that it is completely occluded, creating a condition called sleep apnea (cessation of breathing). This is a serious condition which requires medical attention.

There are several factors which facilitate snoring. First, the normal aging process leads to the relaxation of the throat muscles, thus resulting in snoring. Anatomical abnormalities of the nose and throat, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, or deviated nasal septum cause exaggerated narrowing of the throat during sleep and can lead to snoring.

Functional abnormalities, like the inflammation of the nose and/or throat due to allergies, will result in snoring. Sleep position, such as sleeping on your back, may lead to snoring in some people.

Drinking a lot of alcohol in the evening will cause snoring. Smoking will also lead to snoring. Muscle relaxants taken in the evening may lead to or worsen snoring in some individuals. One of the most important risk factors is obesity, and in particular having a lot of fatty tissue around the neck.