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Quick Dose: What Causes Snoring?

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It’s a common experience: You’re in the middle of a vivid dream and suddenly, you’re startled awake by the loud noise of sawing logs. Your partner is snoring away, blissfully unaware that you’re now lying helplessly in bed wondering how to make it stop.

Snoring occurs when the nose, mouth or throat is narrow or constricted. As the snorer moves air through these narrow passages, the soft tissues of the upper airway vibrate, causing that unpleasant sound.

What causes this narrowing? Some people are just born with narrow airways, a larger tongue or enlarged soft palette. Others can blame allergies or a cold. And for some, weight can be the problem. People who are overweight don’t just store extra fat around the hips — it also collects in the neck and even the tongue, and can compress the airway.

Snoring might be annoying when you’re trying to catch some zzz’s, but it also causes health problems for both bystanders and snorers themselves. Lack of deep sleep can make it hard to concentrate, impact your short-term memory, and of course, make you cranky. More seriously, studies have linked snoring to an increased risk of stroke and diabetes, and snoring may also be an indication of a serious condition, such as sleep apnea, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

To achieve a solid night of slumber, try elevating the head of the bed, side sleeping or using anti-snoring devices. Maintaining a healthy weight may also help. If those remedies don’t work, you may need a sleep evaluation.

- Vikas Jain, MD, sleep medicine, Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, contributed to this Quick Dose