Debunking Sleep Myths: Is Snoring Harmless?


This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Of the approximately 90 million American adults who occasionally experience snoring, many think of it as simply an annoyance, or a barrier to getting a good night’s sleep. In many cases, that’s true, and snoring is nothing more than its physiological components: the vibrations of your breathing against a narrow airway. However, for some people, snoring may be an indicator of more serious health issues. 


When is snoring harmless?

Snoring is a common occurrence, and it is perfectly normal for most people. Because the throat muscles relax as you get older, snoring is a common byproduct of aging. Similarly, alcohol is a muscle relaxant, so a nightcap before bed may cause you to snore when your head hits the pillow. 

Snoring can also be a result of an abnormal structure in the nose or throat, like a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils. These anatomical alterations can lead to an especially narrow passageway in the throat that causes noisy breathing as a harmless side effect. (Lying on the back can cause snoring because gravity lets the tissues in the upper airway relax backwards, obstructing the airways.)

Another trigger of harmless snoring: Nose and throat inflammation during allergy season or during other respiratory illnesses.

When is snoring harmful?

Snoring may be a potential health issue if the snorer experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, or waking up not feeling rested
  • Morning headaches
  • Recent weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain at night 
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or memory loss
  • Observed pauses in breathing at night
  • Waking up gasping for breath

These symptoms suggest a person may be suffering from sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is interrupted throughout the night because the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. Being overweight is associated with sleep apnea, and someone who suffers from the condition may develop high blood pressure and be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

If you or your partner experiences any of the symptoms above, talk to a doctor about your snoring habits. A physician will ask more questions about the nature of the snoring and help determine whether it is harmless or an indication of another medical issue.