Snoring – time to get it under control

Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
16 March 2021
Next review due March 2024

If you snore, it may not be something you’re even aware of. But if you have a partner, chances are they will be! In fact, the social consequences and effect on relationships is one of the main reasons people seek help for snoring.

Although snoring is usually more of a nuisance than a serious health problem, it’s still worth getting it under control.

A dog asleep with its owner.

Why do I snore?

Snoring happens when the muscles around your airways relax, causing your airway to narrow and the surrounding tissues more likely to vibrate. Although this happens to everybody to some degree, there are certain things that can worsen it or make it more likely. Some of these are under your control, and some aren’t. They include the following.

  • Getting older. You’re more likely to snore as you get older, as your muscle tone decreases.
  • Being overweight, or having a large neck (collar) size. Having a lot of fat around your neck can narrow your airway even more than usual.
  • Smoking. This can irritate the lining of your nostrils and throat, causing inflammation and congestion.
  • Drinking alcohol or taking sedating medicines. This can make your muscles relax more than usual.
  • Sleeping on your back. 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 nasal congestion. This may be due to allergies.
  • Having large tonsils and adenoids. This can restrict your airway.
  • Certain conditions that may affect your airways or the shape of your face. These can include acromegaly, underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and Down’s syndrome.

Why does it matter?

Snoring itself isn’t harmful. But it may be a sign that you have a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnoea. If you have this condition, your partner may notice you stopping breathing for a few seconds while you’re asleep and gasp or choke when you start again. You may also feel extremely sleepy during the day. Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery until you’ve seen your doctor if you think you’ve got sleep apnoea. It’s important to get treatment for this condition, so your doctor will want to rule it out if you have trouble with snoring.

The most significant effects of snoring though, are likely to be on your loved ones – snoring can put a real strain on any relationship. It might make you feel anxious about social situations too, such as staying with friends, going on holiday, or even travelling.

How can I stop snoring?

Unfortunately, you can’t just stop snoring at will. The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce it. These include the following.

  • Losing any excess weight.
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Cutting down on alcohol or sleeping tablets, especially in the evening.
  • Changing your sleeping position, from your back to your side.
  • Elevating the head of your bed if you get nasal congestion.

Of course, in addition to reducing your snoring, many of these things will have other health benefits too.

If you've tried the measures above and your snoring is still causing problems, it’s worth talking to your GP. Try to get a recording of your snoring to share with your GP. If there turns out to be an underlying reason for your snoring, there are various treatments they may suggest. These might include a nasal spray if your snoring is related to congestion. They may advise you to see a dentist to see if a mouth appliance can help. Or they might refer you to a surgeon if there’s an underlying cause that surgery can help with.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • Respiratory medicine. Oxford handbook of general practice. Oxford Medicine Online., published June 2020
    • Snoring. BMJ BestPractice., last reviewed 8 February 2021
    • Sleeping position. British Association of Snoring and Sleep Apnoea., accessed 8 March 2021
    • Obstructive sleep apnoea in adults. BMJ BestPractice., last reviewed 8 February 2021

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