Table of Contents
Why Do People Snore, And Is It Genetic?
Date of Content: December 24, 2023
Written by: Avanthika Nityanand
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD
Snoring is caused by the vibration of soft tissues in the throat and airway as air flows past them during sleep. Factors contributing to snoring include anatomical attributes like a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils, obesity, which can lead to extra tissue in the throat, aging that relaxes throat muscles, and lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption and smoking.
Nasal congestion from allergies or infections and certain sleep positions, especially sleeping on the back, can also exacerbate snoring. Conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the throat tissues intermittently block the airway, can also lead to snoring.
Changing sleeping positions can be helpful to stop snoring immediately. Sleeping on the side rather than on the back prevents the tongue and soft tissues in the throat from collapsing into the airway. Elevating the head of the bed by a few inches can also aid in keeping the airways open. Using nasal strips or an external nasal dilator to reduce nasal congestion and ensure smoother airflow through the nose can provide immediate relief.
Maintaining optimal weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and establishing regular sleep patterns are key to preventing snoring. Humidifying your bedroom to keep the air moist can alleviate nasal congestion. Practicing good sleep hygiene, like ensuring a quiet and comfortable sleeping environment, is also beneficial. For some, allergy management and specialized pillows to encourage side sleeping can also help prevention.
The Genetics Of Snoring
A 2020 study focused on the genetic aspects of snoring. Researchers conducted a comprehensive genetic analysis using data from approximately 408,000 individuals from the UK Biobank, including around 152,000 who snore. They successfully identified 42 loci significantly associated with snoring at a genome-wide level. The SNP-based heritability for snoring was estimated to be approximately 10%.
Further, a study conducted in a Korean cohort in August this year (2023) tried to assess the genetic predictability of snoring using a polygenic risk score. The main objective of this study, which included 3,526 snorers and 1,939 non-snorers from the Korean Genome Epidemiology Study (KoGES) cohort, was to replicate the validity of a PRS applied to a UK Biobank cohort.
Findings confirmed that the UK Biobank PRS for snoring was reproducible in the Korean cohort and that genetic risk is an independent risk factor for snoring in this population. This insight could aid in developing personalized strategies to mitigate snoring, particularly in individuals with a high genetic risk.
In the 2020 study mentioned earlier, researchers also found genetic correlations between snoring and several factors and conditions, including body mass index (BMI), alcohol intake, smoking, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, and neuroticism. Through gene-based associations, they pinpointed 173 genes associated with snoring. Among those, DLEU7, MSRB3, and POC5 are notable genes expressed in various body parts such as the brain, cerebellum, lungs, blood, and esophagus.
DLEU7 is associated with various conditions and traits. These include heel bone mineral density, BMI, height, cardiovascular diseases, systolic blood pressure, and a decline in pulmonary function (FEV). The connection between snoring-related genes like DLEU7 and heel bone mineral density might be influenced by BMI, considering the known association between BMI and bone density.
MSRB3, another gene highlighted in the study, is known for its significant role in protein and lipid metabolism pathways. It has been linked with a range of conditions and characteristics, including the volume of the hippocampus, lung function, Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, a personality trait known as novelty seeking, deafness, and height.
Earlier in the article, we discussed how underlying conditions like OSA can also contribute to loud snoring. This was the premise of a GWAS published in March this year (2023). In this study, researchers investigated the prevalence of sleep apnea (SA) and snoring across five cohorts.
They identified positions on chromosomes 5, 11, 12, and 16 near genes ANKRD31, STK33, BDNF (also indicated in the 2020 study), KDM2B, and PRIM1, which are significantly associated with sleep apnea. The study also showed that a PRS that combined sleep apnea and snoring data had a better predictive capability.
Non-Genetic Factors That Influence Snoring
Various non-genetic factors can cause snoring, often related to physical attributes and lifestyle choices. Some of the primary non-genetic causes of snoring include
Age: As people age, the throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone decreases, which can lead to snoring.
Body Weight: Overweight individuals are more likely to snore. Fat around the neck can squeeze the internal diameter of the throat, making it more likely to collapse during sleep, triggering snoring.
Anatomy of Mouth and Sinuses: Physical attributes such as a thick, low soft palate, enlarged tonsils, or adenoids can narrow the airway. A deviated septum (a misalignment of the wall that separates both sides of the nose) can also cause snoring.
Sleep Position: Sleeping on the back can cause the tongue to move to the back of the throat, which partially blocks airflow and leads to snoring.
Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol relaxes throat muscles and decreases the natural defense against airway obstruction, making snoring more likely.
Smoking: Smoking can increase the chances of snoring as it irritates the membranes in the nose and throat, which can block the airways.
Nasal Problems: Chronic nasal congestion or a crooked partition between your nostrils (deviated nasal septum) can contribute to snoring.
Sleep Deprivation: Not getting enough sleep can lead to further throat relaxation, aggravating snoring.
Medications: Certain medications, especially those that relax muscles, such as tranquilizers or sedatives, can increase the likelihood of snoring.
Snoring can also be a symptom of sleep apnea. It is a severe sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. It is advisable to consult a healthcare professional if symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, interrupted sleep, or gasping or choking at night accompany snoring.
Lifestyle Changes for a Snore-Free Sleep
Various lifestyle changes and remedies can be effective in reducing snoring. These include:
- Change Sleeping Position: Sleeping on the side rather than the back can prevent the tongue from blocking the throat, reducing snoring. Special pillows or body pillows can help maintain this position.
- Maintain Optimal Weight: Achieving and maintaining optimal weight can help reduce snoring. Excess weight, especially around the neck, can pressure the airways, leading to snoring.
- Avoid Alcohol Before Bed: Avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can prevent excessive throat muscle relaxation, which can lead to snoring.
- Establish Good Sleep Hygiene: Regular sleep patterns can help reduce snoring. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids can prevent the soft palate and uvula from becoming sticky, which can contribute to snoring.
- Clear Nasal Passages: Keeping nasal passages open can help prevent snoring. You can achieve it through nasal decongestants, nasal strips, a neti pot, or a nasal saline spray.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking irritates the membranes in the nose and throat, which can block airways and cause snoring. Quitting smoking can help reduce snoring.
- Maintain Air Moisture: Using humidifiers to moisten the air in your sleeping area can help soothe nasal passages and the throat, potentially reducing snoring. If a humidifier is not an option, simple alternatives like placing a bowl of water in the room or hanging damp towels can help add moisture to the air.
- Elevate Your Head: Elevating the head of your bed by a few inches can help prevent airways from collapsing, reducing snoring.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can tone the muscles in your throat, reducing snoring.
- Consider Anti-Snoring Devices: Devices like mandibular advancement devices (MADs) or tongue-stabilizing devices (TSDs) can help keep the airway open during sleep.
- See a Doctor: If snoring is severe, persistent, or accompanied by pauses in breathing, gasping, or choking during sleep, it is vital to consult a healthcare professional as it may be a sign of sleep apnea or another medical condition.
These lifestyle changes can be effective for many people. But remember that the effectiveness can vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause of the snoring.
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