Snoring occurs when a person makes a snorting or rattling noise when they breathe during sleep. The noise comes from vibration of the soft palate and tissue in the mouth, nose or throat.

Some people snore infrequently and the sound they make is not particularly loud, while others may snore every night, loud enough to be heard in the next room.

Healthcare professionals use grading systems to assess a person’s snoring. The higher the grade, the more severe the snoring is.

Read more about the symptoms of snoring.

When to see your GP

You should see a GP if your snoring is affecting aspects of your life, such as causing excessive tiredness and poor concentration or relationship problems with your partner.

Excessive daytime sleepiness is particularly important because it increases the risk of a road traffic accident. The Department of Transport estimates that one in five road traffic accidents are the result of excessive sleepiness. It can also cause accidents with the use of machinery and things such as cranes and forklift trucks.

Snoring can sometimes indicate a more serious related condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), where a person’s airways repeatedly become partially or totally blocked for about 10 seconds throughout the night. See your GP if you wake up gasping or choking during the night.

Read more about diagnosing snoring.

If your child snores you should also speak to your GP.

Why does snoring happen?

Snoring is caused by the vibration of soft tissue in your head and neck as you breathe in and out during sleep. This includes the nasal passages, the soft palate in the roof of your mouth, and your tonsils.

While you sleep your airways relax and narrow. This affects air pressure within your airways, which causes the tissue to vibrate. This can also happen if your airways are partially blocked, for example if you have a cold.

Your chances of snoring can be increased by factors such as being overweight, alcohol, and smoking.

Read more about the causes of snoring.

How is snoring treated?

Treatment can improve snoring in some cases, but a complete cure is not always possible.

Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, are usually recommended first. 

There are also anti-snoring devices, such as mouth guards or nasal strips that may help prevent snoring.

If anti-snoring devices don't help, then surgery may be an option. This often involves removing soft tissue that causes the snoring, or preventing the tissue from vibrating by causing it to tighten.

However, surgery for snoring is usually regarded as a last resort. It is important to be aware that surgery can often have a limited effect that doesn't last longer than one or two years and can cause unpleasant side effects or complications.

Read more about treatments for snoring.

Snoring and sleep apnoea

An expert explains the difference between snoring and sleep apnoea, and people talk about the methods they've used to get a good night's sleep.

Media last reviewed: 18/03/2013

Next review due: 18/03/2015

Who is affected?

Snoring is a common phenomenom. A survey carried out by the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (a non-profit organisation) found 40% of the population of England snore.

Snoring can affect people of all ages, including children, although it is more common in people between the ages of 40 to 60. Twice as many men than women snore.

Page last reviewed: 16/10/2012

Next review due: 16/10/2014