What is snoring?

Our airway has multiple areas where muscles play a large role in determining airway shape and size. These muscles include

  • The soft palate at the back of the upper jaw
  • The tongue, which is attached to the lower jaw
  • The wall of the pharynx which is lined with smooth muscle.

While we are asleep, all the muscles in our body relax. Muscle tone reduces in the airway muscles too and they close in on the airway. As the airway narrows, airflow becomes more forceful in order to pass through and this creates vibrations of the muscles.

The vibration sounds are snoring.

Other things can cause snoring include:

  • excess weight
  • hormones – post-menopausal women have hormonal changes that decrease muscle tone and hence increase snoring
  • a few drinks of alcohol can increase how much our muscles are relaxed resulting in snoring
  • nasal congestion due to the flu and or sinusitis
  • medication (such as sleeping tablets/sedatives).

This snoring can go away once these causes are removed.

Most important to consider, however, is structural issues that can be inhibiting adequate airflow. There can include:

  • nasal obstruction
  • underdeveloped jaws

Our upper airway has pressure sensors to detect when there is an oncoming airway collapse. When it senses this, a signal is sent to the brain to tighten up the muscles to open up the airway. In snoring, the vibrations of the soft tissue can numb the pressure receptors in our upper airway. This worsens the airway obstruction and a vicious cycle ensues.

Correcting these structural issues goes a long way to helping treat the underlying cause of snoring.

It is critical to understand that snoring is NOT healthy because it is strongly linked to sleep apnoea. And untreated sleep apnoea can have devastating consequences on one’s health.

Read more about sleep apnoea here.