Expert reviewer, Dr Richard Russell, Consultant Chest Physician
Next review due March 2021

Snoring is the noise made by the vibration of soft tissues in your mouth, nose and throat as you breathe when you're asleep. Snoring is very common. It's thought to affect around four in 10 people, with men more likely to snore than women.

Snoring isn't usually related to any serious problem, but it can be a nuisance – especially if it wakes you or others up. There are a number of things you can do to help reduce it yourself.

Dog sleeping on bed

What causes snoring ?

When you’re awake, muscles in your nose, mouth and throat keep everything in place, and your airways open, allowing you to breathe freely. When you’re asleep, these muscles relax, which can make the surrounding tissues more likely to vibrate. This can also cause your airways to narrow. Snoring is the noise you make when air passes through the narrowed airway, causing the tissues in your airway to vibrate.

Risk factors

There are certain things that make you more likely to snore. Some you can control, and some you can't. They include the following.

  • Your age. You’re more likely to snore as you get older, as your muscle tone decreases. Women may also be more likely to snore after the menopause. This may be related to the change in hormone levels after the menopause.
  • Being overweight. If you have a lot of fat around your neck, it can narrow your airway even more, and increase the pressure in your airway.
  • Smoking. Smoking can irritate the lining of your nostrils and throat, causing inflammation and a build-up of catarrh. This reduces your airflow, so you're more likely to snore.
  • Drinking alcohol. This can make your muscles relax more than usual, making your palate and tongue more likely to vibrate. This can also happen with medicines that cause sedation.
  • Your sleeping position. You're more likely to snore if you sleep on your back, than if you sleep on your front. When you lie flat on your back, your tongue is more likely to fall back into your throat, restricting your airway and causing you to snore.
  • Having enlarged tonsils and adenoids, or any other condition that might block your airway such as nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum. Any condition that restricts the airflow may make you snore.
  • Certain conditions affecting your hormones, such as acromegaly and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can also lead to an increase in snoring.

What’s keeping you up at night?

One in three Brits are suffering from poor sleep. Take a look over our tips in The Sleep Series to help make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep each night.

Learn more

Effects of snoring

Snoring itself isn’t harmful. But it may be a sign that you have a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnoea. This interrupts your breathing at night, disrupting your sleep. It’s important to get treatment for this condition. See related topics for more information about obstructive sleep apnoea.

If snoring is significantly disrupting your sleep, it can make you tired the next day. Snoring can seriously affect the people around you and can have a significant effect on relationships. In fact, this is often one of the main reasons people seek help for their snoring. You may feel anxious too about social situations, such as staying with friends or going on holiday, or even travelling.

Self-help for snoring

The good news is that there are many things you can do yourself to reduce your snoring. These include the following.

  • Lose any excess weight 
  • If you smoke, make a plan to stop.
  • If you drink alcohol or take sleeping medicines, cut down, especially in the evening.
  • Sleep on your side, and keep your head raised on pillows (one thick pillow, or two thin ones is thought to be best). If you keep rolling onto your back, try pinning a rolled up sock to the back of your nightwear to discourage you from turning over.

Although it may not stop your snoring, it could also be worthwhile for your partner to try wearing earplugs.

Seeing your doctor about snoring

If you've tried the measures above and your snoring is still causing problems, it’s worth talking to your GP. They will ask you some questions to try and determine how bad your snoring is. They'll want to know if there's anything that seems to make it worse, and whether it affects you or your partner's sleep. They'll also want to check that you don't have any signs of obstructive sleep apnoea. They may do this by asking you questions from a questionnaire, called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Your doctor will probably want to weigh you and check your collar size (neck circumference). They may also examine you, including checking your nose and looking inside your mouth, to see if there's anything obvious that may be causing your snoring. Your GP may refer you for thyroid function tests, if they think your snoring could be related to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). If your snoring is really bad or your GP thinks you might have sleep apnoea, they'll refer you to a sleep clinic or specialist for treatment.

Treatment for snoring

There are a number of treatments your doctor may recommend to try and tackle your snoring.


If your snoring is thought to be related to nasal congestion, your GP may suggest you try taking a decongestant.

If you're a woman and have gone through the menopause, your GP may discuss whether taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an option for you.

Devices to help with snoring

Your doctor may recommend you try a mandibular advancement device. This is a type of mouth guard that you wear at night. It works by pushing your lower jaw and tongue forward, opening your airway. These need to be fitted by a dentist or specialist surgeon, so you'll need to be referred to have this done.

Nasal dilator strips, which work by keeping your nostrils open when you're asleep, are another product you can buy to help with snoring. Some people do seem to find them helpful, but there hasn't been enough research to tell for sure how effective they are at reducing snoring.

Surgery for snoring

Your doctor may suggest surgery if there is an underlying physical problem that can be identified as a reason for your snoring. For instance, if you have nasal polyps (growths in your nose), your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them. You can also have surgery to repair a damaged septum (the thin wall between your nostrils). If you have large tonsils or a large uvula, these can also be removed.

Other procedures use laser or radiofrequency ablation (heat from radio waves) to reduce the amount of tissue around your soft palate or uvula. However, it's unclear how effective these procedures are in the long term. Your doctor will also need to be sure you don't have sleep apnoea if you plan to have this type of treatment.

It’s important to keep in mind that surgery is generally only considered as a last resort and in specific circumstances. Surgery can cause side-effects, and even if it is successful at first, many people find that their snoring returns in time.

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Related information

    • Snoring. PatientPlus., published 15 September 2014
    • Snoring. MSD Manuals., last full review/revision October 2014
    • An introduction to snoring. British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association., accessed February 2018
    • Respiratory medicine. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published April 2014
    • Snoring. BMJ BestPractice., last updated November 2017
    • The menopause. British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association., accessed February 2018
    • Smoking. British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association., accessed February 2018
    • Sleeping position. British Association of Snoring and Sleep Apnoea., accessed February 2018
    • Radiofrequency ablation of the soft palate for snoring. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)., published January 2014
  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, March 2018
    Expert reviewer, Dr Richard Russell, Consultant Chest Physician
    Next review due March 2021