The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) estimates that “about half of people snore at some point in their lives.” You might have a partner who snores consistently at night; maybe YOU’VE been told that you snore, too. And while snoring is disruptive, loud, and pretty unpleasant to listen to, it can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder, especially if you have diabetes.
Why do people snore?
Snoring is more common in men: About 57% of men snore, compared to about 40% of women. Even children can snore.
Snoring occurs when air flow through the mouth or nose is obstructed. When air has to travel through an obstruction, the tissues in the mouth, throat, and nose strike each other, making noise that can vary in volume, ranging from gentle gasps to loud, rumbling that sounds like a freight train.
A large amount of throat tissue, a long soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth) or uvula, or poor muscle tone can cause snoring, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. A deviated septum, nasal polyps, or even a small jaw or small nostrils can be the culprit. People might be more prone to snoring during, say, allergy season, or when they have a cold or a sinus infection.
The Sleep Foundation mentions that drinking alcohol or taking sedative medications can trigger snoring by relaxing the muscles that support tissues lining the airway. And smokers tend to snore more than nonsmokers, possibly due to upper airway inflammation and edema.
Other factors that contribute to snoring include:
- Overweight or obesity
- Older age
- A family history of snoring or obstructive sleep apnea
- Hypothyroidism, or low levels of thyroid hormone
- Acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that leads to too much growth hormone
- Hypogonadism, or low levels of testosterone
- Sleeping on the back
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Complications of snoring
You might think that snoring, while annoying if you’re listening to it, is not a big deal. The reality, though, is that snoring can be a sign of more serious health issues.
One of these serious conditions is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines OSA as “a sleep-related breathing disorder that involves a decrease or complete halt in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe.” With OSA, muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue in the throat to collapse and block the airway. This blockage can cause pauses in breathing that can last from 10 seconds up to 60 seconds or longer.
A lack of breathing means that oxygen levels fall; this then leads to a brief arousal from sleep to restore breathing. When this happens, the person often makes gasping or choking noises as their airway opens. This cycle can repeat hundreds of times during the night.
Because OSA is so disruptive to getting a good night’s sleep, a person with this condition will often be sleepy during the day, have trouble concentrating, and feel irritable. More serious consequences of OSA include an increased risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Weight gain
- Premature death
OSA can also lead to headaches, heartburn, and an increased risk of having a car accident (due to sleepiness).
If you have type 2 diabetes and OSA, you may find it more difficult to manage your diabetes. Not getting enough quality sleep can affect how you care for yourself. For example, you may forget to take your diabetes medicine or check your blood sugar. You might not be motivated to exercise or stick with a healthy eating plan.
Treatment for snoring
If you snore (or someone in your household has told you that you snore), mention it to your health care provider. They will likely do a physical exam and may order tests, as well as a sleep study to determine if you have OSA. However, keep in mind that not everyone who snores has OSA.
Lifestyle changes can help you manage snoring. These include:
- Losing some weight
- Stopping smoking
- Not drinking alcohol close to bedtime
- Changing your sleep position so that you don’t lie on your back
- Using an anti-snoring mouthpiece or mouthguard
- Using nasal strips to keep nasal passages open
If lifestyle measures don’t help to resolve snoring, your provider might prescribe a steroid nasal spray; in some cases, surgery might be required to correct a physical problem, such as excess tissue in the back of the throat or removing tonsils or adenoids.
In addition, if OSA is the cause of snoring, your provider will likely recommend use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).