When I tell my patients that snoring is in fact a sleep disordered breathing condition, they’re usually taken by surprise. I think that this is because most people consider it to be an annoying habit at worst, but definitely not a disorder.
Unfortunately, I have to break it to them that anyone who is snoring is dealing with a sleep disorder. It’s a red flag to any health professional that works with the airway because snoring is closely connected to obstructive sleep apnea. The applies in both adults and children.
I like this quote from Dr. Mark Burhenne’s book The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox, “Snoring is never normal, never cute, and always a red flag for poor sleep”.
What Is Snoring?
This definition from Wikipedia is a pretty good one. It states:
“Snoring is the vibration of respiratory structures and the resulting sound due to obstructed air movement during breathing while sleeping. In some cases, the sound may be soft, but in most cases, it can be loud and unpleasant. Snoring during sleep may be a sign, or first alarm, of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).”
What’s basically happening with snoring is that the naturally smooth and easy flow of air while breathing is being disrupted by a restriction or obstruction of some sort. Instead of being a smooth flow, the airflow becomes turbulent, which creates a noisy vibration of certain parts of the nose, mouth, and throat.
This makes it harder to breathe. And of course, if you can’t breathe properly while you’re trying to sleep, well, that’s definitely a sleep-related breathing disorder.
What Are The Causes of Snoring?
Age – Snoring is often linked to age. As we get older, the body tends to lose muscle tone. When this affects the muscles of the nose, mouth, and tongue, it’s possible for them to relax at night and begin to physically obstruct the airway. In the dreaming phase of sleep (REM sleep), our muscles relax completely. This means that people with lower muscle tone are even more likely to snore when they dream.
Sleep Position – Sleeping on your back can increase the chance of snoring. In this position, the tissues of the throat and the tongue are more likely to collapse and cause restricted breathing.
Alcohol, Medication, And Food – Drinking alcohol can have a muscle-relaxing effect, which can lead to the same problems with physical obstruction in the nose, mouth, and throat. Smoking and certain medications can also contribute to this. Foods that promote inflammation or cause thickening of mucus can also cause snoring.
Allergies – Allergic reactions can cause swelling and nasal congestion. This increases the risk for snoring because the airway is going to be more restricted than usual.
Deviated Septum – A deviated septum can also cause snoring. In this case, we’re dealing with a physical restriction in the airway, which will affect the natural flow of air, potentially leading to vibration.
Jaw Problems – Issues with the jaw such as TMJ may lead to snoring if they cause the mouth to be held open or allow the lower jaw to relax, fall back and narrow the airway.
Poor Facial And Oral Development – Issues with craniofacial development can also cause someone to snore. Anyone who has limited forward facial growth, a narrow palate and narrow jaws is likely to have some restrictions in their airway.
Weight – Excess weight is a notorious contributor to this condition. This is because overweight people usually have fatty tissue and low muscle tone in and around the throat.
Tissue Abnormalities – Anything that’s growing on the tissues of the nose, mouth, and throat such as tumors, nasal polyps, or cysts can be problematic because they interfere with the flow of air. Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids can also cause a narrowing of the airway, which can in turn affect airflow..
Snoring is often caused by a combination of the above factors. It’s entirely possible for someone to not snore until they drink too much alcohol. But the alcohol may not be solely to blame. It could for example, be causing tissues in the throat that have lost some muscle tone to relax further. This will then narrow the airway and trigger noise and vibration.
This video is a fascinating look at snoring… from the inside of the body!
This article will be continued soon in Part Two.