Snoring is the sound of obstructed breathing during sleep. While snoring can be harmless (benign snoring), it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition which progresses from upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Snoring occurs when the structures in the throat are large and when the muscles relax enough to cause the airway to narrow and partially obstruct the flow of air. As air tries to passes through these obstructions, the throat structures vibrate causing the sound we know as snoring. Large tonsils, a long soft palate and uvula and excess fat deposits contribute to soft tissue narrowing.
The sound of snoring comes from the uvula, the back of the tongue and the other soft tissues of the throat flapping as air passes over them when you breathe during sleep. It's very much like the sound a flag makes when it waves in the wind. This can happen even when the tissues are normal size because when you fall asleep the muscles in the throat, soft palate and uvula relax.
Airway blockage is the root cause of all snoring problems. When you snore, your airway is partially blocked by the soft tissues in the back of the throat, by the back of the tongue and by the soft palate and uvula. This causes a decrease of air flow to the lungs. A decrease in air flow causes a lack of oxygen to the brain.
At the very minimum, at least 30% of adults snore on a regular basis and up to 50% snore occasionally. Men snore more than women at a ratio of 2:1 but women do snore. Snoring increases with increasing age and increasing weight. Allergies, asthma, colds and sinus infections increase the risk of snoring.
Drinking an alcoholic beverage before you go to sleep, being overweight, smoking or overeating all can make the problem worse as can some medications like muscle relaxers. In some people simply sleeping on their back can cause snoring.