Chrome 2001
Aetna Intelihealth InteliHealth Aetna Intelihealth Aetna Intelihealth
. .
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Medical Myths Medical Myths

Myths About Snoring

November 09, 2012

By Robert H. Shmerling M.D.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Healthy Lifestyle
Medical Myths
Myths About Snoring
Myths About Snoring
Snoring is remarkably common. And, it becomes more common with age. Here are some of the most common myths about snoring.
Harvard Medical School Commentary

Have you ever wondered why people snore?

Perhaps you should. Whether it's you, your housemate or your bedmate, understanding snoring and its treatment can help keep peace at home. And it can even help identify and treat serious illnesses associated with snoring.

Snoring is remarkably common. And, it becomes more common with age. About a third of 30 year-olds and 50% of those age 60 and older snore. Yet, most of them don't know why they do it (if they know they're snoring at all). Here are some of the most common myths about snoring:

  • Only men snore.
  • Only overweight people snore.
  • Snoring is more funny than serious.
  • People who snore know it.

Each of these is completely or largely false. Here's why:

    • Among adults over age 50, snoring affects men and women equally. However, it's true that among younger adults, male snorers outnumber female snorers.
    • While excess weight is a risk factor for snoring, even people who are lean can snore.
    • Movies and television shows often show snoring as an amusing annoyance. But, if your snoring bedmate is keeping you awake, it's certainly no laughing matter. Nor is it funny when snoring is associated with sleep apnea or other serious complications.

      Ignoring snoring may be easier said than done: Snoring can reach 80 decibels, louder than a garbage disposal or even a freight train from about 50 feet away. (Noises louder than 85 decibels can be harmful your ears.)

    • Many snorers don't know they snore until someone tells them.

Back to top

Why Do We Snore?

Snoring is caused by turbulent air flow through the upper airways (the mouth and nasal passages) that causes the uvula and palate at the back of the throat to vibrate. Also, the tissues in the upper airways lose muscle tone and become loose as we age. As a result, they vibrate more as air sails past.

Several conditions that interfere with air flow or affect muscle tone may contribute to snoring. These include:

    • Anatomy – Some people have a more prominent palate or tongue than others, which interferes with air flow.
    • Allergies – Congestion and swelling in the tissues of the upper airway make it more difficult for air to flow.
    • Obesity – Extra fat around the neck may be to blame (although even people whose extra fat is mostly around their abdomen have a higher rate of snoring).
    • Alcohol use (especially just before bed) – It relaxes the muscles around the upper throat.
    • An infection (sinus, tonsils or cold) – Inflammation and swelling of the structures through which air must pass increases turbulence.
    • A deviated septum – The cartilage between the two sides of your nose may be off to one side rather than right in the middle.

Back to top

Why Snoring Matters

Sometimes snoring is just a nuisance. But, it may be a sign of a serious medical condition.

The most common (by far) is obstructive sleep apnea. With this condition, people don't just snore. They also stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. And the quality of their sleep is poor. Oxygen levels in the blood may drop. This can lead to complications, such as high blood pressure, an unstable heart rhythm or a serious lung disease (called pulmonary hypertension).

Of course, it also matters to the snoring person's bedmate.

Back to top

What You Can Do

Banishing a snorer to another room is not the best solution.

If you have a treatable condition that may be contributing to your snoring, see your doctor. For example, if you have a cold, allergies or a sinus infection, treating these conditions may improve or eliminate the snoring.

Losing excess weight, moderating alcohol use (especially at night), and adjusting your sleep position may be helpful. A special dental appliance can hold the jaw and tongue in a position that reduces snoring. However, the device can be hard to tolerate.

Besides losing excess weight, the most common treatment for sleep apnea (and the snoring that accompanies it) is a "continuous positive airway pressure" (CPAP) device. It includes a mask through which air flows. The air pressure keeps the airways open. While these can be quite effective, many people find them hard to tolerate. (Some snorers remove the appliance while sleeping without even realizing it.

Surgery can be a last resort. It can help increase the space available for air to flow through the upper airways. Examples include tonsillectomy, repair of a deviated septum or removal of the uvula.

Back to top

The Bottom Line

Snoring is common and highly misunderstood. But, there's a lot you can do if you're one of the estimated 90 million Americans who snore. Just don't assume it's only men or obese people who snore. These are myths you can help end. Snoring is serious business. Just ask the guy sleeping on the downstairs couch.

Back to top

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

sleep apnea,alcohol,allergies,deviated septum,extra fat,muscle
    Print Printer-friendly format    
HMS header
 •  A Parent's Life
 •  Woman to Woman
 •  Focus on Fitness
 •  Medical Myths
 •  Healthy Heart
 •  Highlight on Drugs
 •  Food for Thought
 •  What Your Doctor Is Saying
 •  What Your Doctor Is Reading
 •  Minding Your Mind
 •  Man to Man

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.