“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone,” British novelist Anthony Burgess reportedly said. Who hasn’t either been robbed of a night of peaceful sleep or been banished to another room because of snoring?
It is one of the most common sleep problems, at least occasionally affecting about 90 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And while the subject of jokes, snoring can indicate a serious medical problem.
Why Snoring Increases As We Age
What’s more, snoring often worsens as we get older. There are several reasons for that, says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California:
- Loss of muscle tone As we get older, we tend to lose muscle tone, including in the upper airway. The soft palate in the back of the roof of your mouth, for instance, becomes more susceptible to vibration. And the movement of those tissues, including the uvula, is what we hear as snoring.
- Weight gain Aging, and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle that often comes with older age, frequently results in extra pounds. Being obese or overweight — particularly in the neck area — goes hand-in-hand with snoring, Dasgupta says.
- Alcohol That nice glass of wine or beer at night, which you may indulge in more often as you get older, makes snoring worse, since it relaxes the muscles even more.
- Medications Many people take an increasing number of medications as they age. In what may seem a cruel twist of fate (at least for your bed partner), an attempt to cure insomnia by taking a sleeping aid can also increase the propensity for snoring. That’s because insomnia medication causes muscles to relax and depresses the respiratory drive, Dasgupta says.
- Hormonal changes for women Post-menopausal women have lower levels of estrogen, which helps with muscle tone. But losing the estrogen means softer muscles, including in the upper airways.