What Causes Snoring During Pregnancy?

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Raj Dasgupta, MD

During pregnancy, your body undergoes various changes, leading to issues like indigestion, heartburn, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Surprisingly, many pregnant individuals experience snoring, even if they never did before. About 14% to 53% of pregnant people snore, and it often increases as the pregnancy advances.

This sudden snoring can disturb your sleep and your partner’s. You’re probably looking for ways to deal with it. Is snoring during pregnancy something to worry about?

To answer that, let’s look into why it happens, find practical tips to reduce it, and discuss when it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.

Causes of Snoring in Pregnancy

Snoring is simply the sound you make when the soft tissues in your throat vibrate because your throat is narrowed or blocked. Even the air around you, like dry air, can play a part in your snoring.

Let’s make sense of what specifically causes snoring during pregnancy:

1. Hormones 

During pregnancy, rising levels of estrogen and progesterone affect your body in various ways. These hormones can relax muscles and tissues in your throat and airways, potentially causing breathing interruptions known as sleep apnea.

They can also lead to a stuffy nose or pregnancy rhinitis, making it harder to breathe through your nose. These changes can contribute to snoring as air passes over relaxed throat tissues, creating vibrations and noise.

2. Weight Gain

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended pregnant women to gain 25 to 35 pounds. As you gain weight, particularly around the abdomen, it can exert additional pressure on the muscles responsible for keeping your airway open during sleep. These muscles include those in the throat and neck.

In more severe cases, it could contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, a condition marked by intermittent breathing pauses during sleep.

3. Environmental Factors

During pregnancy, heightened sensitivity can make your nose more prone to stuffiness. This, combined with factors like dry air or recent illnesses, can increase the likelihood of snoring.

Experts suggest using a humidifier to balance the bedroom’s humidity. If you’re around smoke or a smoker, tobacco irritation can also contribute to snoring during pregnancy.

So, creating a comfy and smoke-free sleep environment can help keep the nighttime symphony quiet.

4. Sleep Position and Quality of Sleep

During pregnancy, lying on your back may increase the chances of snoring due to the uterus pressing on major blood vessels. Doctors recommend side sleeping, especially on the left, as it improves blood flow to the baby and potentially reduces snoring. Good sleep quality matters too, as poor sleep can lead to increased fatigue and more snoring.

5. Ethnicity Factors

When it comes to sleep, it turns out that ethnicity can play a role. According to a 2019 study digging into insomnia, sleep, and snoring, it found that African American women might face a higher risk of breathing issues during sleep compared to women from other racial backgrounds.

Potential Underlying Problems

Pregnancy is exciting, but it comes with body changes, including increased snoring. Although snoring is normal during pregnancy, it might signal underlying health concerns.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

During pregnancy, one significant sign of sleep apnea could be frequent and loud snoring. It’s common for people with sleep apnea to experience interruptions in their breathing during sleep. While they may not be aware of these pauses, their bed partner might notice that they stop breathing for short periods, often followed by gasping or choking sounds as they start breathing again.

Pregnancy tends to increase the risk of developing sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Studies suggest that OSA develops in 3% to 27% of pregnant women, compared to only 0.7% to 6.5% of non-pregnant females. The likelihood of developing OSA is higher in the later stages of pregnancy and among those who are overweight or obese.

If a pregnant woman snores loudly and frequently (more than three days a week), it might be a potential sign of sleep apnea.

Snoring and Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a condition during pregnancy where blood pressure gets too high, which can pose risks for both mom and baby. 

Some recent research has suggested that snoring might increase the chance of getting high blood pressure issues during pregnancy, including preeclampsia. It’s important to remember, though, that just because you’re snoring doesn’t mean you have preeclampsia. 

But if you’re snoring and also experiencing things like headaches, sudden weight gain, difficulty breathing, blurry vision, or protein in your urine, it’s very important to let your healthcare provider know.

Snoring and Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes (GD) is a condition where blood sugar levels get too high during pregnancy. Some studies suggest a link between sleep issues like snoring or sleep apnea and a higher chance of getting GD. Just like with preeclampsia, though, snoring on its own doesn’t mean you have GD. 

Around 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, doctors usually test for GD with a glucose tolerance test. If you’re worried about GD, make sure to discuss it with your doctor and get tested if needed.

Snoring and Perinatal Depression

Perinatal depression is when you experience symptoms of depression during your pregnancy, rather than after giving birth. A study from 2021 suggested that snoring during pregnancy might increase the chance of perinatal depression. 

Women in the study who snored three or more times per week were more likely to have symptoms of depression than those who didn’t snore. It’s crucial to remember, though, that snoring doesn’t directly cause depression. 

How to Manage Snoring During Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant and snoring is giving you and your partner a hard time, don’t worry – there are several ways you can ease this. But remember, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it, as it could be a sign of something else that needs to be checked out.

Here’s what you can do at home:

  1. Sleep on your side: As your tummy grows, lying on your back can worsen snoring. Switch to sleeping on your side and use a pregnancy pillow for comfort.

  2. Elevate your head: Use extra pillows to elevate your head while sleeping. This can improve airflow and reduce snoring.

  3. Try a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can soothe your airways, potentially reducing snoring. Clean it regularly to prevent germ buildup.

  4. Nose strips and saline sprays: Over-the-counter nose strips or saline sprays can open nasal passages, aiding in reducing snoring.

  5. Monitor weight gain: Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can contribute to snoring. Stick to recommended calorie increases and discuss a healthy diet plan with your doctor.

  6. Avoid smoke: Smoke, even secondhand, can irritate airways and worsen snoring. Ensure a smoke-free environment for better breathing.

Every pregnancy differs, so prioritize what’s best for your health and seek professional advice when needed.

You may also want to check out some anti-snoring devices or anti-snoring mouthpieces.

Need professional help to diagnose and address your sleep problems? Schedule an online consultation with sleep specialist Dr. Owen Napleton.

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