Snoring is caused by a vibration of tissues in your throat from air passing through as you breath in. This occurs because the airway is not fully open, and air is forced through a narrow passage. This causes a blockage of the airway. The tissues then vibrate, making a snoring sound.

The loudness of the snore is affected by how much air is going through the passage. The smaller the passage is, the harder it is to breath in air, and the snoring becomes louder.

About 10 to 30 percent of all adults snore. Most people do not have a medical condition causing their snoring. However, about five out of 100 people could possibly have a life threatening disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (your breathing stops or gets very shallow while you are sleeping).

Snoring is common in adults. People at a higher risk are males with large necks and those who are overweight. People who drink alcohol before bedtime may snore more than usual.

Snoring is sometimes caused by an illness like a common cold, sinus infection or obstructive sleep apnea.

The following can help prevent or reduce snoring:

  • Sleep on your side. This helps prevent the tissues in your throat from covering the airway.
  • Lose weight. This helps reduce the fatty deposits in the throat, opening the airway.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before sleeping. Alcohol is harmful because it relaxes the muscles in the airway.
  • Avoid smoking. Cigarettes may cause nasal congestion, which can result in snoring.
  • Wear an oral appliance (mouth guard) while you sleep.
  • Use nasal EPAP (devices that are like stickers placed over your nose to hold open your throat while you exhale).

For more treatment options, talk to your health care provider about your specific snoring problem.

Warning: Sleep apnea

woman sits up in bed and glares and snoring husband who needs sleep apnea treatment

Excessive snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. A specialist can tell if you have this condition by doing a sleep study.

Reviewed By: Dr. Michael Schmitz, PsyD, LP, CBSM, Abbott Northwestern Hospital; Andrew Stiehm, MD, Allina Health clinics
First Published: 05/01/2009
Last Reviewed: 03/22/2016