February 28, 2022 4 min read
Nearly everyone snores now and then. Adults, children, and even babies are all capable of snoring, at least occasionally. But there comes a time in a person’s life when snoring seems to be louder and more frequent than usual. You probably guessed we’re talking about middle age.
As you grow older, your body goes through changes that make it more likely for you to snore. But at what point in their life exactly do people normally start to snore? And is this an inevitable part of aging or a sign of a health problem? More on that below.
Snoring happens when the soft tissues in your throat relax, obstructing airflow. This causes their vibration and the grating sounds of snoring. The part of your upper airway that vibrates while you snore is called the pharynx, located at the back of your throat.
Now, there are many reasons that can cause the throat to relax and lead to snoring:
Other risk factors for snoring include having a blocked nose, nasal polyps, swollen thyroid gland, and enlarged tonsils, all of which make it harder for air to flow in and out. But one ofthe common risk factors for snoring is aging.
In one German study, researchers asked students and older adults about their self-reported snoring. Unsurprisingly, 83% of the surveyed students reported that they never or rarely snored, while only 35% of the older adults did the same.
Studies like these confirm what we already know: that snoring becomes more common with age. But at what age can you expect to start sawing logs?
Most research shows that snoring is more common in those over 40 years of age. And by that, we mean that snoring becomes more chronic and severe. As already said, most people tend to snore at least occasionally. But habitual snoring is something we usually see in middle-aged and older adults.
Men are also more often affected (at least directly) than women. A woman’s tendency to snore increases after menopause, when hormonal shifts lead to changes in their upper airways.
Growing old affects many aspects of sleep, including how you breathe. Probably the most likely reason so many adults start to snore around middle age is due to the weakening of throat muscles.
Studies show that muscle mass decreases about 3 to 8% each decade after you turn 30, and this rate is even higher once you turn 60. When the muscles in your throat become less toned, the surrounding structures don’t have enough support to keep the upper airway open during sleep, leading to snoring.
But muscle loss likely isn’t the only reason people snore more once they turn 40. With muscle loss, people also tend to put on weight because muscle mass is an important regulator of metabolism. With more fat around the throat area, the upper airway becomes narrower and more likely to get obstructed.
While habitual snoring is common in older adults, it’s not really normal. Snoring can keep your bed partner or roommate from getting undisrupted sleep. It could also be a warning sign that you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep-related breathing disorder that can increase your risk of chronic health problems.
OSA causes pauses in breathing during the night, sometimes up to 30 times in an hour. These pauses cause the sufferer to gasp for air, leading to loud gasping or choking noises that may resemble very loud snoring. Surprisingly, though, many of those affected don’t realize this is happening while it’s happening. Instead, they may notice the following:
If left untreated, OSA increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart conditions, and stroke. And because OSA disrupts normal sleep architecture, you may also experience mood problems, trouble concentrating, and be at a greater risk of accidents.
To treat snoring, you need to know its causes. Speak to your doctor who may recommend a sleep study and other tests to determine if the cause of your snoring is OSA or a different underlying problem.
If your doctor determines that you have primary snoring, which is snoring without pauses in breathing, they may recommend:
If these measures fail to provide relief, you may benefit from oral appliances. An oral appliance is a medical device that you put in the mouth before bedtime that keeps mouth structures in place to prevent airway obstruction.
An example of an oral appliance used to treat OSA is mandibular advancement devices. These shift the lower jaw slightly forward. Studies indicate that they can be effective in reducing sleep apnea severity. However, they usually require custom fitting and can be expensive.
A more convenient and affordable alternative, in that case, would be tongue-stabilizing devices. These don’t require custom fitting and can be purchased over-the-counter. They work by shifting the tongue slightly forward to keep it from obstructing your pharynx. They’re comfortable, easy to use, easy to clean, and clinically proven to work.
Sleep Health Foundation. Snoring. Accessed February 2022. Link Here.
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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. Link here
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Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging.Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004;7(4):405-410.doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2
Mayo Clinic. Snoring. Dec 2017.https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/snoring/symptoms-causes/syc-20377694
Francis CE, Quinnell T. Mandibular Advancement Devices for OSA: An Alternative to CPAP?.Pulm Ther. 2021;7(1):25-36.doi:10.1007/s41030-020-00137-2
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