Technically, snoring is defined as any resonant noise from the respiratory tract that emerges during sleep.
Biologically, snoring refers to a vibration in the airway connecting the nose and the mouth; a vibration that can emerge through the mouth, the nose, or (as some non-snorers are painfully aware), it can emerge through both!
As you can sense, the more narrow the airway, generally speaking, the more intense the vibration; and ultimately, the louder the snore.
You may also be wondering why snoring only seems to emerge at night; after all, people literally use their airway every moment of their life; so why is snoring a nocturnal dilemma?
The answer to this is found in looking at the tissues within the airway. This tissue is very soft, and at night becomes relaxed; it's similar to how some muscles, like biceps, become relaxed at night since the body does not require them.
As the throat (and its subsequent tissue) relaxes during sleep, the wind tunnel/airway becomes narrower and hence, snoring occurs.
There are several health and lifestyle factors that contribute to snoring; and this is true for both men and women, since snoring is a condition that does affect both genders (though surveys suggest that men snorers outnumber women snorers by a ratio of 2:1).
Some of the major health and lifestyle factors that can contribute to snoring include:
Allergies, which can clog the airway and trachea
Allergy medications, which can dry the nasal cavities
Cold and Flu, which can similarly clog the airway (this is why some people experience snoring only when they're suffering a cold or flu)
Thickened tissues in the nasal passages, which can sometimes result from some surgeries unrelated to snoring
Overuse of nasal sprays which irritate the nasal passageway
Enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils
Goiter (swelling of the an ineffective thyroid gland in the neck)
A disproportionately large tongue that blocks airflow
Ineffective regulation and neural control of mucus membranes
Obesity and excess weight (leading to an enlarged neck and excess soft tissue in the trachea)*
Excess gut/belly (relatively decreasing the size of the lungs)*
Drinking alcohol**, which:
- sedates the throat muscles and causes them to collapse
- dilates blood vessels which swells up throat tissue
Cigarette smoking, which inflames the upper airway
The normal aging process, which can simply lead to a loss of muscle tone in the neck and thus snoring
* Since relatively more men tend to experience an excess gut, this is one reason why more men tend to experience snoring than women.
** Any medication (prescribed, over the counter, or illicit) that leads to excessive relaxation can lead to snoring.
While snoring affects people of both genders and of all ages, it typically does afflict more men than women. There are a few reasons for this. Overall, men's necks tend to be larger than women's necks; and thus there may be more fleshy tissue in there just waiting to combine with air flow and cause snoring.
Another reason is that women produce the hormone called Progesterone, which is considered by some medical experts to be an aid in reducing or preventing snoring. In fact, there are some anti-snoring treatments that involve Progesterone therapy for snoring men.
The actual snoring sound that emerges is dependant upon the force of wind that is being pushed through the (narrowed) airway. As you can envision, the more potent the force of wind (i.e. the faster the speed of the wind), the louder the snoring.
This is also why even babies can snore; but it's often not considered snoring in the conventional sense, because an infant's force of wind through their wind tunnel is so mild, that it can easily be ignored (though this can lead to complications; infant snoring can often be a symptom for a breathing and/or respiration problem, including allergy).
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