Snoring, like all other sounds, is caused by vibrations that cause particles in the air to form sound waves. For example, when we speak, our vocal cords vibrate to form our voice. When our stomach growls (borborygmus), our stomach and intestines vibrate as air and food move through them.
While we are asleep, turbulent airflow can cause the tissues of the palate (roof of the mouth) and throat to vibrate, giving rise to snoring. Essentially, snoring is a sound resulting from turbulent airflow that causes tissues to vibrate during sleep.
What causes snoring?
While we are breathing, air flows in and out in a steady stream between our nose or mouth and our lungs. There are relatively few sounds when we are sitting and breathing quietly. When we exercise, the air moves quickly and produces some sounds as we breathe. This happens because air is moving in and out of the nose and mouth more quickly and this results in more turbulence to the airflow and some vibration of the tissues in the nose and mouth.
Stages of sleep and snoring
Sleep consists of several stages, but in general they can be divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM stages. Snoring can occur during all or only some stages of sleep. Snoring is most common in REM sleep, because of the loss of muscle tone characteristic of this stage of sleep, and during deep sleep or non-REM Stage 3 sleep.
During REM sleep, the brain sends the signal to all the muscles of the body (except the breathing muscles) to relax. Unfortunately, the tongue, palate, and throat can collapse when they relax. This can cause the airway to narrow and worsen snoring.
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