What Causes Snoring in Women?

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Raj Dasgupta, MD

Snoring is a common problem during sleep that can affect people of all genders. It’s important to understand why women and those assigned female at birth snore.

In the past, research on snoring often ignored women, but recent studies are shedding light on how female hormones might contribute. New research also indicates that gender may influence the likelihood of experiencing snoring.

This article delves into the factors that make women more prone to snoring and explores whether snoring in women is considered normal.

Causes of Snoring in Women

Snoring is a widespread problem that doesn’t discriminate between men and women. Yet, there are specific reasons why women might snore. Exploring these causes can provide insights into why snoring happens and how to find relief.

1. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful and transformative experience for women, but it can also bring about changes in the body that lead to snoring. Believe it or not, about half of pregnant women find themselves snoring regularly, according to the American Thoracic Society.

Snoring tends to worsen as pregnancy progresses, especially during the third trimester. This can be attributed to changing hormones, weight gain, and swollen nasal passages. The good news is that snoring typically reduces significantly after giving birth.

Read more: What Causes Snoring During Pregnancy?

2. Hormones

Hormones play a significant role in women’s snoring due to the changes they undergo, particularly during pregnancy.

For example, Estrogen and progesterone levels surge during pregnancy to support the developing baby. These hormonal changes can lead to various physical alterations in the body. For instance, they might cause the tissues in the nasal passages to swell, leading to congestion or a stuffy nose. 

Moreover, hormonal fluctuations can influence the muscles and tissues in the throat and airway. These changes might increase the likelihood of airway pressure changes, which can contribute to episodes of snoring and, in some cases, sleep apnea. 

3. Nasal Congestion and Other Nasal Issues

Snoring in women (and people in general) can be linked to nasal congestion and other nasal problems. When nasal passages are blocked or narrowed, it disrupts normal airflow during breathing, creating turbulence. This turbulent airflow makes soft tissues in the throat vibrate, resulting in the characteristic sound of snoring.

Several factors can contribute to nasal congestion and related issues in women:

  • Cold and Allergies: Conditions like colds and allergies can cause inflammation and swelling of the nasal tissues, leading to congestion.

  • Sinusitis: Inflammation of the sinuses can result in nasal congestion and difficulty breathing through the nose.

  • Nasal Surgery: Surgical procedures on the sinuses can temporarily impact the normal function of the nasal passages.

  • Nasal Septum Issues: A deviated or crooked nasal septum can obstruct airflow, contributing to snoring.

  • Abnormal Growth: Unusual growths inside the nasal cavity, such as polyps, can physically block the airway.

For women, hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy can also contribute to nasal congestion, making them more susceptible to snoring during this period.

4. Overweight and Obesity

For women, snoring often ties closely to being overweight or obese. Extra weight, especially around the neck and throat, can create more soft tissue. As a woman sleeps, this surplus tissue puts pressure on the airway, increasing the chance of partial collapse during sleep and causing vibrations that result in snoring.

The excess tissue can also directly block the airway, making it more prone to collapse as muscles relax during sleep, creating turbulent airflow and snoring.

Obesity further impacts breathing by reducing lung volume due to restricted chest expansion. This decreased lung capacity can affect breathing during sleep.

Being overweight or obese may also affect the function of breathing muscles, leading to a less stable airway during sleep and a higher likelihood of snoring.

5. Smoking, Alcohol, and Sedatives

Some substances can up the chances of snoring. Alcohol, acting as a muscle relaxant, narrows the upper airway. Sedatives like benzodiazepines and certain antidepressants relax throat muscles. Opiate use can depress the central nervous system, impacting breathing control and reducing muscle tone in the upper airway.

Smoking irritates and inflames nasal passages, causing congestion that obstructs smooth airflow, adding to snoring.

6. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Snoring can also be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the airway narrows significantly during sleep, affecting breathing. While snoring itself may not disturb sleep, OSA can lead to frequent nighttime awakenings and increase the risk of long-term health consequences. 

Research suggests that OSA is often missed in women, with as many as 93% of women with OSA going undiagnosed. This may be due to differences in symptoms experienced, reluctance to discuss snoring with doctors, or less observant bed partners.

7. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid does not produce sufficient thyroid hormones, is more common in women. It can narrow the breathing passages and make snoring more likely. The thyroid hormones affect the function of organs throughout the body, including the airways.

Learn more:

Is It Normal For Women To Snore?

Yes, it’s entirely normal for women to snore. Even though snoring is often associated with men, women can and do snore. Snoring is a common part of the sleep process for many people and is generally considered normal. As we age, the likelihood of snoring may increase, but snoring itself isn’t usually a cause for concern.

Around 28% of adult women snore, and the frequency varies among individuals. Some snore regularly, while others do so only occasionally. Factors like anatomy, sleep position, and lifestyle choices contribute to snoring in both men and women.

Most times, occasional snoring is harmless and doesn’t need medical attention. However, if snoring becomes persistent, loud, or comes with other symptoms like pauses in breathing, daytime fatigue, or morning headaches, it’s worth discussing with a healthcare professional. These could signal a more serious condition, like obstructive sleep apnea, which may need further evaluation and treatment.

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

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