5th April, 202212 min read

Snoring: how to stop it and get better sleep

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Snoring is a noise you make when your breathing gets partially blocked while you’re sleeping.

If your airway becomes narrow, the air can’t move through your nose and throat properly, which causes the tissues to vibrate and make a snoring sound. This narrowing of your airway has many possible causes, from being overweight or having a cold, to the position of your tongue while you sleep.

Snoring can be frustrating, for you and your partner. It can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep and leave you feeling tired, irritable and less able to get on with your day. You might think it’s something you just need to put up with. But good sleep is important – so we want to stop snoring getting in the way of you waking up refreshed.

The good news is that snoring isn’t usually a sign of anything serious. And in most cases it’s treatable, either with self-care or treatment from a doctor. So here’s what you need to know about snoring, including what you can do about it and when to see a doctor.

What causes snoring?

Snoring can be caused by lots of things. It happens while you’re asleep, when all your muscles relax, including the muscles in the roof of your mouth, tongue and throat.

Sometimes, the tissues in your throat can relax so much that they narrow or partially block your airway. This causes the tissues to vibrate as air goes over them, creating a snoring sound. The narrower your airway gets, the more the tissues vibrate – and the louder your snoring gets.

Common snoring triggers include:

  • being overweight
    – having excess body fat can mean you have extra soft tissue in your neck, which can narrow your airway
  • alcohol – alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, so drinking too much before bedtime can bring on snoring
  • smoking
    – this irritates your nose and throat and can cause swelling (inflammation), leading to snoring
  • a blocked, stuffy nose – nasal congestion increases your chances of snoring, and can be caused by a
    cold
    ,
    sinus infection
    , allergies (
    allergic rhinitis
    or
    non-allergic rhinitis
  • sleep deprivation – your throat muscles may relax too much when you’re trying to catch-up on lost sleep, making snoring worse. Try these science-backed tips for better sleep
  • sleeping on your back
    – snoring can be more likely if you sleep on your back, because of gravity’s effect on your throat, which narrows your airway
  • sleeping pills
    – these can relax your muscles too much and lead to snoring

In some cases, snoring can be a symptom of another health condition, including:

  • obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
    – this is when your airway sometimes becomes completely blocked while you’re asleep, so you stop breathing for a few seconds. It causes snoring, snorting, choking and gasping, as well as other symptoms
  • upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) – this is similar to OSA, but your airway becomes narrowed rather than blocked, causing reduced airflow. As well as snoring, symptoms include heavy breathing and waking up a lot during the night
  • enlarged tonsils or
    adenoids
    – these can narrow your airway, causing snoring, and may lead to OSA. In some cases, they may need to be removed
  • underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
    – this condition can cause narrowing in your upper airway, which can lead to snoring, as well as increasing your risk of OSA

How snoring affects your health

Snoring is sometimes treated as a bit of a joke, but over time, it can affect your health – and the health of your partner.

It can lead to problems that can affect your ability to get the most from your day, including:

  • a lack of quality sleep at night
  • low energy and sleepiness during the day
  • relationship problems – you and your partner may be more irritable because of a lack of sleep, have less intimacy due to sleeping in separate bedrooms, or your partner may be resentful because they feel you’re not doing enough to stop your snoring

Some studies have also suggested that there’s a link between snoring and heart disease – but the evidence is limited and more research is needed.

If your snoring is caused by 1 of the health conditions listed above, such as OSA, it may also be associated with other problems. Read about

when to see a doctor about OSA.

Who is more likely to snore?

Snoring occasionally is very common, and it’s thought that almost everyone will probably snore at some point in their life. But it’s hard to say exactly how many people it affects. This is because whether or not you snore varies from night to night, as does whether you – or anyone you share a bedroom with – notices it.

However, you’re more likely to snore if:

  • you’re older – your risk of snoring increases as you age
  • you have a family history of snoring – it often runs in families
  • you have a small jaw – or a jaw that sits further back in your face
  • you have a large tongue or tonsils
  • you’re male – it isn’t clear why snoring is more common in men, but 1 theory is that the upper airway tends to be larger, so you’re more likely to have ‘floppy’ tissue in your throat and nasal passages, which can vibrate and create the snoring sound. OSA is also more common in men

What makes women more likely to snore?

While snoring is more common in men, it’s also quite common in women. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to snore if:

  • you’re pregnant – this is due to weight gain and hormonal changes, which can cause swelling (inflammation) in your nose
  • you’re going through
    menopause
    – some research suggests snoring may increase after the menopause. In 1 study, researchers found an increase in snoring between the ages of 50 and 59 in both men and women, which was worse in women who also had menopausal symptoms. OSA is also more common postmenopause – this is thought to be because of the weight gain on the tummy that can happen around this time. The role of hormones in snoring is still being researched

How do I know if I snore?

As snoring happens while you’re asleep, you may not always be aware that you’re doing it. Signs that you snore include:

  • restless sleep
  • disrupted sleep for your partner – because they’re woken up by your snoring
  • a sore throat when you wake up

If you live alone and you aren’t sure if you snore, you could try recording yourself on your phone while you sleep. There are even apps that can analyse your sound patterns.

If you notice that you’re waking up gasping or choking in the night, your snoring may be a symptom of OSA. Read more about

sleep apnoea symptoms
.

How can you stop yourself snoring?

Self-care steps to help stop yourself from snoring include:

  • losing weight if you need to – even losing just a little extra weight can help with snoring. Read about
    how to lose weight safely
    and
    tips for healthy eating
  • not smoking – read about
    stopping smoking
  • limiting alcohol – especially just before going to bed
  • avoiding sleeping pills – unless recommended by a doctor
  • sleeping on your side – try taping a tennis ball to the back of your nightclothes to stop you from rolling onto your back, or buy a special pillow or bed wedge to help keep you on your side. Read more about
    the best sleeping positions for good rest

How to deal with a snoring partner

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“If your partner snores, it’s likely to be keeping you up at night and affecting your energy levels,” says

Dr Adiele Hoffman
, Healthily Clinical Content Reviewer. “This can be frustrating, but rather than not saying anything, or ending up feeling angry or resentful, try discussing it with them.

“First, you need to let them know that there’s a problem – after all, they won’t necessarily even realise that they’re snoring. But once they know how it’s affecting you, they’ll be more likely to want to make changes – and you can tackle the problem together.”

You can help your partner by:

  • supporting them to lose weight (if they need to) by finding fun ways you can be more active together
  • not drinking alcohol with them too close to bedtime
  • encouraging them to sleep on their side, rather than their back

There are also things you can try to improve your sleep, including:

  • wearing ear plugs – there are different options available, depending on the volume of the snoring. Or try noise-cancelling headphones if you don’t like the feeling of plugs in your ears
  • putting on music or white noise – you might find it useful to download an app that plays white noise
  • sleeping in a separate room – if nothing else you’ve tried works

How can a pharmacist help with snoring?

If you think your snoring is being caused by nasal congestion or an allergy, your pharmacist may recommend

antihistamines
or
decongestants
to help you breathe better.

Decongestant nasal sprays and tablets can help in the short term (a week or less), but they shouldn’t be used as a long-term measure.

You may also be able to buy other anti-snoring devices, including nasal strips. These are sticky strips you wear across your nose at night, which can help to open up your airway if you have blocked or narrowed nasal passages.

When should you see a doctor about snoring?

You should speak to your doctor if:

  • lifestyle changes aren’t improving your snoring
  • your snoring is having a big impact on your life – or your partner’s
  • you feel sleepy during the day, make choking or gasping noises or stop breathing during sleep – these can be symptoms of OSA, which can cause
    excessive daytime sleepiness
    and other problems if it isn’t treated

If you’re still not sure whether you need to see a doctor, use our

Smart Symptom Checker
to help you work out what to do next.

How snoring is diagnosed

To find out what’s causing your snoring, your doctor may ask about your:

  • symptoms – such as how often you snore, what it sounds like and how it affects you. It can be helpful to make a recording on your phone, or bring someone who’s heard you snoring with you
  • medical history and family history – it’s a good idea to find out if other family members snore or have OSA before your appointment
  • diet and lifestyle – to assess whether these might be affecting your sleep

Your doctor may also listen to your heart, check your blood pressure, and look inside your mouth and nose to check for any problems that might be causing your snoring.

In some cases, you may need to be referred to a specialist for further tests, such as a breathing (respiratory) specialist or an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Medical treatment for snoring

What treatment you’re offered for your snoring will depend on what’s causing it. Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • mandibular repositioning appliance (MRA) – also called a mandibular advancement device or splint, this is worn in your mouth while you sleep, like a gum shield. It holds your airway open, which controls your snoring. It can be particularly useful if your tongue blocks the back of your throat while you sleep
  • vestibular shield – this is a device worn in your mouth to make you breathe through your nose while you sleep. A chin strap to hold your mouth closed is a similar option
  • nasal dilator – this is a plastic device that holds your nose open while you sleep, so the airway in your nose is less blocked. In some cases, you doctor may recommend you try nasal strips, which do a similar thing
    continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – if OSA is causing your snoring, this is a common treatment. You wear a face mask at night, which pushes air into your airway to keep it open. Read more about
    medical treatment for sleep apnoea

A less common treatment is surgery to help your breathing (such as removing large tonsils). This may be considered if other treatments don’t help. But it isn’t widely available on the NHS, and it doesn’t always work – some people find their snoring comes back.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.