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BRAIN & NERVOUS SYSTEM

Sleep

Snoring is loud, hoarse, or harsh breathing sounds that happen while you are asleep. Snoring affects about half of men and 25 percent of women — most age 40 or older. It occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, creating hoarse or harsh sounds.

To restore peace and quiet, as well as domestic harmony, simple changes — such as losing weight or sleeping in a different position — can help. In addition, laser surgery can often reduce disruptive snoring. However, laser surgery isn't suitable for all snorers, such as people with sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep.

Causes

As you doze off and progress from a lighter sleep to a deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of your mouth (soft palate), tongue and throat relax. If the tissues in your throat relax enough, they vibrate and may partially obstruct your airway.

The more narrowed your airway, the more forceful the airflow becomes. Tissue vibration increases, and your snoring grows louder.

Having a low, thick soft palate or enlarged tonsils or tissues in the back of your throat (adenoids) can narrow your airway. Likewise, if the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula) is elongated, airflow can be obstructed and vibration increased. Being overweight contributes to narrowing of your throat tissues.

Snoring also can be brought on by consuming too much alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol acts like a sedative, relaxing throat muscles. Chronic nasal congestion or a crooked partition between your nostrils (deviated nasal septum) may be to blame. Snoring may be an occasional problem, or it may be habitual.

Snoring may also be associated with sleep apnea. In this serious condition, excessive sagging of throat tissues causes your airway to collapse, preventing you from breathing. Sleep apnea generally breaks up loud snoring with 10 seconds or more of silence. Eventually, the lack of oxygen and an increase in carbon dioxide signal you to wake up, forcing your airway open with a loud snort.

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