When Should I Worry About...

What Causes Snoring And When to See a Doctor About It

May 25, 2023 - Kim Rivera Huston-Weber

A couple fighting about snoring sounds like a sitcom plot. But in real life there's nothing funny about snoring and its effect on a person's sleep and overall health. So what causes snoring and when should you see a doctor?

What is snoring?

Snoring is a sound made during sleep that can sound like rattling, whistling, snorting or grumbling. While almost everyone snores at some point (think when you're sick or experiencing seasonal allergies), it becomes a problem when it becomes an every-night occurrence and results in daytime sleepiness or irritability.

What causes snoring?

"Snoring is typically caused by the vibration of tissues in the throat and nasal passages during sleep," said Dr. Sara Bakhtiar, a primary-care physician with Houston Methodist.

Several factors contribute to the development of snoring, according to Dr. Bakhtiar. They can include:

  • Obstructed airways: When airflow through the nose and throat is partially blocked, it can lead to snoring. This obstruction can be caused by various factors, such as nasal congestion due to allergies or colds, a deviated septum, or enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
  • Poor muscle tone: Weak muscles in the throat and tongue can cause them to relax excessively during sleep, which narrows the airway. Muscle weakness can happen due to aging, drinking alcohol, taking sleep aids, or certain medical conditions.
  • Excess weight: Being overweight increases the likelihood of snoring. Extra fatty tissues around the neck and throat can pressure the airway, causing narrowing and snoring.
  • Sleep position: Sleeping on your back can cause the base of the tongue and soft palate to collapse against the back of the throat, blocking airflow.
  • Alcohol and sleep aids: These substances can interfere with the brain's ability to regulate sleep patterns and breathing. Drinking or taking a sleep aid can also relax throat muscles.
  • Smoking: Smoking causes inflammation in throat tissue which can cause nasal congestion and airway obstruction.


How to tell if you snore

If you share a bed, chances are good you've been told if you snore. But even without such corroboration, your body will start to tell you.

Tell-tale signs of snoring can include waking up with a dry mouth, sore throat, fatigue or headache. During the day, you might experience sleepiness, trouble concentrating and memory problems. During the night, you might be restless or have difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia). You also may occasionally wake up at night gasping or choking during sleep.

Related: Snoring Isn't the Only Sign of Sleep Apnea (PODCAST)

OK, I snore. Can I deal with it on my own?

Snoring might seem like a simple annoyance that you can deal with on your own. A whole cottage industry of over-the-counter devices claims to curb snoring. While nasal strips and other snoring remedies may provide some relief, Dr. Bakhtiar warns that it may only be temporary.

"They may not be able to address the root cause of the snoring," she says. "It is better to talk to your doctor for proper diagnosis and management of snoring."

When to see your doctor about snoring

Talking to your primary-care provider (PCP) is often the first defense in snoring. Your PCP may recommend lifestyle changes to start, according to Dr. Bakhtiar. They may suggest:

  • Weight loss
  • Avoiding alcohol or other sedatives before bed
  • Sleeping on your side instead of your back
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule


Snoring can sometimes be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep.

If you're exhausted throughout the day, have loud gasping or choking during sleep, or wake up frequently, you should talk to your PCP. They may refer you for a sleep study to diagnose OSA.

"Most patients coming in with snoring symptoms will need a sleep study eventually for a diagnosis," Dr. Bakhtiar said.

Under no circumstances should you ignore OSA, which can be a silent killer. Untreated, it increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and other heart problems.

In any event, snoring is a symptom you shouldn't sleep on. While it can seem harmless, snoring is usually a sign you're not getting all of sleep's health benefits.

Finding out why you snore and getting treatment is the best way to make sure you're getting the rest and oxygen you need at night. There are a variety of sleep apnea treatments, from CPAP machines all the way up to surgery, that can help you start to rest better.

"Poor sleep quality caused by snoring can have a significant impact on your overall well-being and quality of life," Dr. Bakhtiar said. "It can lead to mood disturbances, decreased productivity, increased risk of accidents, strain your relationships and a general decline in physical and mental health."

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