While snoring itself may be harmless, it can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS).
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is caused by a narrow airway. With normal breathing, air passes through the nose and past flexible structures such as the soft palate, that “dangley” thing called the uvula and the tongue. When you fall asleep, muscles that helped keep the air passage open sometimes relax too much. And as the airway narrows the tissues vibrate. That’s because the same amount of air must travel faster through a slender tube than through a broad one. This rapidly moving air causes the soft tissues of the throat (tonsils, soft palate, uvula and tongue) to vibrate the sound of snoring. It’s like putting a flag in front of a fan; the faster the fan, the greater the flutter.
Why is the airway narrow in snorers? Things that take up space in the airway reduce its diameter. Structures that can take up space in the airway are large tonsils, a long soft palate or uvula, and in people who are overweight, excessive tissue. The most common cause of a narrowed airway is a tongue that relaxes too much during sleep and gets sucked back into the airway with each breath taken.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Apnea occurs when the tongue is sucked completely against the back of the throat, the airway is blocked and breathing stops. Once that happens, the harder the sleeper tries to breathe, the tighter the airway seal becomes. It’s like trying to drink through a straw that’s stuck in a lump of ice cream. The harder you suck, the flatter the straw becomes.