Snoring is when you make a noticeable sound when you breathe in during sleep.
The sound is caused by soft tissue at the back of your mouth, nose or throat vibrating. The exact sound you make will depend on the type of soft tissue that's vibrating.
For example, if the soft tissue at the back of your nose vibrates when you snore, you'll produce a pinched nasal sound that's not particularly loud.
If the tissues at the top of your mouth (soft palate) and the back of your throat (uvula) vibrate, you'll produce a louder, more guttural ("throaty") sound.
In most cases, snoring is caused by a combination of areas that are vibrating or blocked.
People tend to snore most during the deepest stages of sleep, around 90 minutes after falling asleep. Most people tend to snore loudest when sleeping on their back.
Healthcare professionals use a grading system to assess the severity of a person’s snoring. There are three grades of snoring, described below.
Grade one snoring
Grade one snoring, also known as simple snoring, is where a person snores infrequently and the sound they make isn't particularly loud.
If your snoring is classed as grade one, your breathing will be unaffected. This means you won't experience any significant health problems related to your symptoms.
However, your snoring may cause personal problems or issues if it's irritating or upsetting your partner.
Grade two snoring
Grade two snoring is where you snore on a regular basis (more than three days a week).
Some people with grade two snoring may experience mild to moderate breathing difficulties during sleep. This can affect sleep quality, making you feel tired and sleepy during the day.
Grade three snoring
Grade three snoring is where you snore every night, so loudly it can be heard outside your room.
Many people with grade three snoring have a related condition called obstructive sleep apnoea. This is where the airways become partially or totally blocked for about 10 seconds.
The lack of oxygen triggers your brain to take you out of deep sleep into a lighter state of sleep, or to wake you up for a short period to restore normal breathing.
Repeated episodes of snoring and waking can occur throughout the night, causing you to feel very sleepy the next day. This may have an adverse impact on your day-to-day activities.
When to seek medical advice
See your GP if you feel excessively tired during the day. It may be caused by your snoring affecting your breathing while you sleep.
The most common sign of excessive tiredness is when you find yourself falling asleep during the day.
You should also see your GP if you think a lack of sleep is affecting your day-to-day activities and causing symptoms, such as:
- poor memory and concentration
- headaches (particularly in the morning)
- irritability and a short temper
- lack of interest in sex
You should also visit your GP if your snoring is causing problems for your partner, such as keeping them awake at night or waking them up.
If your child snores, take them to see a GP. It may be caused by an underlying problem with their airways, such as enlarged tonsils. This will require further investigation and possibly treatment.