January 22, 2024 5 min read

Nearly everyone snores now and then. But for some 10 to 30% of adults, snoring is a chronic occurrence [1]. While many see snoring as nothing more than an annoying habit, it can affect your health and disrupt your and your bed partner’s sleep. Snoring is also one of the first symptoms of sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that warrants treatment. 


One of the many causes of snoring is excess weight, especially in the neck area. But can losing those few extra pounds really help with snoring? Or are there other factors at play in your snoring habit that you need to look at?

More on that in the lines below. 

Why We Snore

Snoring is the hoarse or harsh breathing noise that a person makes when soft tissues in their throat collapse, causing them to vibrate during sleep. Snoring can be relatively benign or it could be a symptom of something more serious, such as sleep apnea. When snoring is due to sleep apnea, it is accompanied by other symptoms: 


  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Cognitive and mood changes
  • Morning headaches 
  • A sore throat upon awakening
  • High blood pressure

Snoring and sleep apnea have many causes. But in most cases, they happen due to an obstruction in the upper airways. Examples of obstructions that can lead to snoring are enlarged tonsils and adenoids, a deviated septum, nasal congestion, allergies and the common cold [2]. Other risk factors for snoring are being older, being male, drinking alcohol, and taking sedatives.

Another big risk factor for snoring is being overweight, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. 

The Link Between Weight and Snoring

Snoring is more common in people who are overweight and obese than those with a healthy BMI [3]. A study of women in Mysore, India found that habitual snoring was twice as likely in obese women and 7 times more common in women with severe obesity compared to normal-weight women [4].


The Sleep Foundation offers two explanations for why this is the case: 


  1. Having excess weight creates fat deposits in a person’s neck called pharyngeal fat [5]. This fat can create a blockage in the upper airways when it is relaxed during sleep.

  1. Being overweight can also compress the chest wall, reducing a person’s lung volume. This further reduces normal airflow and makes it more likely for the upper airways to collapse [6].

In other words, carrying around excess weight constricts the airways and reduces the normal force of airflow, both of which cause the upper airways to cave in.

There’s also substantial evidence that the link between snoring and especially sleep apnea and excess weight goes both ways. One study carried out in the 1990s examined 1-year histories of newly diagnosed sleep apnea patients and compared them to healthy controls [7]. The study found that the sleep apnea patients had significant weight gain over the year before their diagnosis. 

Can Weight Loss Help With Snoring? 

Many guidelines recommend weight loss as one of the conservative treatments for snoring [8]. That’s because there’s plenty of scientific evidence showing that snoring can be managed by losing weight when excess weight is the main contributing factor. 


An older study published in a 1995 issue ofChest sought to find a combination of non-invasive treatments for snoring [9]. The study found that weight loss is one of the most effective snore solutions compared to changing to a side-sleeping position or using nasal decongestants. What’s more, the more weight the test subjects lost, the less they snored. 


A later study in extremely obese adolescents in a rehabilitation center had similar findings [10]. The study found that after the test subjects BMI dropped from 45.3 to 35.8 their snoring decreased from 37.56% of total sleep time (TST) to 32.86%. Now, while that doesn't seem like much, it’s good evidence that weight loss does seem to help.

How Much Weight Do You Need to Lose?

Ideally, you should aim for a healthy BMI of 25 or less to stop snoring [11]. The aforementioned studies show that modest weight loss leads to less time spent snoring or less severe snoring, but that it does not seem to stop it unless it results in a healthy BMI.


The same may hold true for sleep apnea. A meta-analysis looking into the effectiveness of weight loss in the management of this condition found that weight reduction makes sleep apnea less severe but that it does not cure it [12]. The researchers concluded that weight loss should be considered as an additional treatment in the management of sleep apnea.

When Weight Loss May Not Be Effective

Not all snoring is caused by excess body fat. One study involving NFL players, for example, found that half of them were snorers [13]. Now, NFL players may be fit and healthy, but many have large neck circumferences that contribute to snoring.

Snoring can happen for reasons other than excess body weight, as already explained. Drinking alcohol and taking sedatives before bedtime can relax your upper airway muscles too much, causing snoring. Being older and male are two risk factors for snoring you can’t control. And others may have anatomical problems that require surgery to treat snoring. Examples include a deviated septum, nasal polyps, an elongated uvula and enlarged tonsils.


Then there are also cases where snoring can be managed by working on your sleep hygiene and other lifestyle interventions. Using snore solutions like  tongue-stabilizing devices can also be helpful as a quick solution to this common problem. 

Takeaways

Because many cases of snoring are due to benign overweight, weight loss can reduce or even erase this problem for good. This has even been tested in studies over the years, with many showing that the more weight a snorer loses, the less they snore. 


However, not every snorer is overweight, and not every case of snoring is due to carrying around too much body fat. In these cases, your doctor may want to look into other possible reasons behind your snore problem. 


References:

Park JG. Snoring. Encyclopedia of Sleep. 2013, Pages 265-268 https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-378610-4.00319-3


Snoring. Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed November 2023.https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15580-snoring


Kara CO, Zencir M, Topuz B, Ardiç N, Kocagözoğlu B. Erişkin nüfusta horlama yayginliği [The prevalence of snoring in adult population]. Kulak Burun Bogaz Ihtis Derg. 2005;14(1-2):18-24.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16227718/#:~:text=Results%3A%20The%20prevalence%20of%20habitual,risk%20factors%20for%20habitual%20snoring.


Krupp K, Wilcox M, Srinivas A, Srinivas V, Madhivanan P, Bastida E. Snoring is associated with obesity among middle-aged Slum-dwelling women in Mysore, India.Lung India. 2020;37(3):210-219.doi:10.4103/lungindia.lungindia_515_19.


Pacheco D, DeBantos J. How Weight Affects Sleep Apnea. Sleep Foundation. January, 2023.https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea/weight-loss-and-sleep-apnea


Schwartz AR, Patil SP, Laffan AM, Polotsky V, Schneider H, Smith PL. Obesity and obstructive sleep apnea: pathogenic mechanisms and therapeutic approaches.Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2008;5(2):185-192.doi:10.1513/pats.200708-137MG


Phillips BG, Hisel TM, Kato M, et al. Recent weight gain in patients with newly diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.J Hypertens. 1999;17(9):1297-1300.doi:10.1097/00004872-199917090-00009


Stuck BA, Hofauer B. The Diagnosis and Treatment of Snoring in Adults.Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2019;116(48):817-824.doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0817


Siegfried W, Siegfried A, Rabenbauer M, Hebebrand J. Snoring and Sleep Apnea in Obese Adolescents: Effect of Long-term Weight Loss-Rehabilitation.Sleep Breath. 1999;3(3):83-88.doi:10.1007/s11325-999-0083-7


Shukla AD, Jain S, Mishra R, Singh AK. Does 'weight reduction' help all adult snorers?.Lung India. 2013;30(1):16-19.doi:10.4103/0970-2113.106123


Anandam A, Akinnusi M, Kufel T, Porhomayon J, El-Solh AA. Effects of dietary weight loss on obstructive sleep apnea: a meta-analysis.Sleep Breath. 2013;17(1):227-234.doi:10.1007/s11325-012-0677-3


Rogers AJ, Xia K, Soe K, et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea among Players in the National Football League: A Scoping Review.J Sleep Disord Ther. 2017;6(5):278.doi:10.4172/2167-0277.1000278



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