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Understanding Snoring -- the Basics

What Is Snoring?

Snoring happens when something is blocking the airways, anywhere between the tip of the nose to the lungs. It's very common, and although it can be noisy for people living with you, it's usually not a serious problem.

One of the most common causes of snoring is when your soft palate (the soft part of the roof of your mouth) vibrates as you're breathing in. It can happen when the muscles that keep the airways open become too relaxed or there is too much tissue nearby, curbing air flow.

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Do Seniors Need Less Sleep?

When it comes to myths about sleep, this one refuses to nod off -- and stay asleep. Contrary to popular opinion, older people don't need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person. But many older adults get much less sleep than they need, for a variety of reasons. Take Harry Gaertner, a 68-year-old retiree from Richardson, Texas. He remembers first being...

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You are more likely to snore if you're overweight and if you:

  • Drink alcohol
  • Smoke
  • Take medications such as sleeping pills, cold medicines, or antihistamines
  • Sleep on your back
  • Sleep on a pillow that's too soft or too large
  • Have a condition, like asthma, that tightens your airways
  • Have enlarged tonsils

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that's linked to snoring. If you have sleep apnea, you briefly stop breathing during sleep several times a night.

Sleep apnea can make you tired, give you headaches, and is linked to other serious conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

If you think you have sleep apnea, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep lab, where they can check to see if you need a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to help you breathe steadily while you sleep. If you're overweight, losing extra pounds may help, too.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 23, 2015

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