The real cause of Snoring
Snoring is the annoying breathing noise generated from the vibration of our airway tissue as air rushes through it during sleep. For people who lives by themselves, snoring tend not to be an issue because there’s no one that gets disturbed. People only find out that they snore after someone else they live with starts to make complaints.
So why do people snore? Well, I’m guessing you probably already know that the narrow airway is what to be blamed. But that isn’t the whole story.
Today I’m going to help you dig deeper, and find out why your airway narrows and causes you to snore.
Let me start by asking you this:
“When you are awake lying on your bed, do you snore?”
I think the answer is “No”; you don’t.
This means when you are awake, your airway, structurally, is actually wide enough for you to breathe through quietly. Only after you have fallen asleep, you start to snore.
There are two things at play here: Incompetent airway muscle strength and overbreathing.
When we fall asleep, our body relaxes and so does our muscle. Our muscle, including the muscle that supports our airway, reduces tension after we fall asleep. As a result, our airway becomes softer and more prone to narrow.
You might wonder, we all relax during sleep, but why do some people snore and some don’t?
This is because even though everyone’s airway muscle relaxes during sleep, the degree of muscle tension reduction varies among individuals. Therefore, the lower your airway muscle tension is, the softer your airway is; and your airway is more likely to vibrate by the air rushing through it, causing you to snore.
You might have heard that your airway narrows due to your tongue compressing on it when you sleep in the supine position; it’s the same concept. The stronger your tongue muscle is, the more likelihood your tongue can support its own weight and give enough space to your airway during sleep, even if you sleep in a supine position. Luckily, tongue muscle can be easily strengthened; it is the very first topic we teach in our training.
Airway muscle tension is often reduced with aging. Alcohol consumption is another factor that reduces muscle tension. Genetics can take part as well.
Habit of mouth breathing is another big contributor to a narrow airway. With an opened mouth and a supine sleeping position, your tongue and jaw naturally falls back towards your throat and compresses your airway. That is why some people only snore when they sleep in the supine position, but stop snoring when they turned to their side. Fortunately, with the right breathing habit and a strong supportive tongue, you should be able to keep your mouth closed during sleep. Mouth breathing also allows excessive air flow when you inhale and exhale during sleep, which brings out the next snoring contributor – Overbreathing.
Another factor that causes your airway to narrow and vibrate is overbreathing, and by overbreathing I mean the amount of air you breathe is more than what your airway can handle. Mouth breathing and stress are the more common triggers to overbreathing.
Your body is smart. When you fall asleep, your body relaxes, your muscle relaxes, your airway softens, and your breathing also reduces. Ideally, your breathing during sleep would reduce and slow down to an adequate level to accommodate the softened airway. But we know that’s not the case for you if you snore.
When you over breathe, you inhale and exhale a great amount of air, resulting in strong air flow travelling through your airway. This air flow creates negative pressure in your airway which would suck in your airway wall and reduce your airway’s opening. You can refer this as the vacuum effect, suction created due to negative pressure.
Here’s an experiment I’d like you to do. Take two pieces of paper, hold them 1 inch (2-3cm) apart, as shown in photo below.
Take a deep breath and quickly blow between the papers and observe what happens.
Rather than moving apart, the two pieces of paper actually collides.
You can try this experiment with thicker paper, and also with thinner paper like tissue paper. And you will find that it is harder for thicker papers to collide as you blow though them, and much easier for tissue papers to collide.
This is the reason why we don’t snore when we are conscious; because when we are conscious, our muscles are fully functional and have more than enough tension to prevent airway wall from collapsing or vibrating. When we fall asleep, as mentioned earlier, our muscle relaxes and its ability to keep the airway from narrowing also reduces.
Let’s go back to the experiment above again. I want you to use hold the same papers as you did the first time, but blow through them much lighter and slower this time.
Did you notice that the papers don’t collide as much?
It is a tug of war, or power struggle, between the negative pressure from your breathing that narrows your airway, and the muscle tension that maintains your airway. The heavier your breathing is, the stronger the suction gets, and airway is more prone to narrow. The weaker your muscle tension is, the more difficult it is to keep your airway open. This is what causes you to snore, insufficient muscle tension and overbreathing.
To make matter worse. When your airway narrows, you naturally tend to breathe harder. By breathing harder, the air flow increases and fastens, resulting in stronger suction force, which further narrows your airway. This phenomenon can actually be explained by a physics principle called the Bernoulli’s principle.
Don’t forget, faster air flow also means greater vibration and louder snoring noise. This cycle of airway narrowing and breathing harder stops when the airway suction force reaches equilibrium with your airway muscle tension.
The combination of these two factors, insufficient airway muscle tension and overbreathing, is the root cause of why you snore. Fortunately, these two factors are what we considered as functional incompetency, meaning lack of proper practice. Unlike structural incompetence where surgical intervention is usually required, functional incompetency can be naturally improved through behavioral change and simple training by yourself.
LINK: The real cause of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (coming soon)