What is Snoring?
Snoring, by its medical definition, is called “stertor”. This means noisy breathing. It happens whilst we are asleep because that’s when the airway collapses and becomes partially blocked.
The noise of snoring is produced from a reduction in muscle tone causing structures in the throat to start to flap – rather like a sail or flag flapping when the wind reaches a certain speed.
It’s all to do with turbulent air flow and resonance. There are three parts of our throat which tend to flap because they are not firmly fixed to anything. They are the soft palate, the uvula and the epiglottis.
As these structures flap about under the correct conditions of high flow, turbulent breathing, they trap air against the back wall of the throat for a split second, causing a very high pressure build up and subsequent sound wave, just like clapping your hands together.
You might ask why this doesn’t happen when you have high flow breathing from exercise – that’s because muscle tone holds everything in place, including the soft palate, uvula and epiglottis.
Normal breathing while we are awake also doesn’t tend to cause snoring, as it is relatively low energy, and our breathing tube is held open widely by the muscles of the throat.
That’s what we mean by muscle tone. When we tense our arm or stomach muscles and they become hard and firm, that’s an example of high muscle tone. It is obviously much harder to make a hard muscle flap than a soft, low tone one.
When the airway collapses due to low muscle tone, oxygen levels drop a little, which is registered in the brain. This causes a signal to go to the lungs so that more effort is put into breathing and enough air is shifted to restore normal oxygenation.
The lungs duly comply, increasing their force, causing an increase in the speed of flow so that enough air is moved in and out. Think of a small but fast flowing river, with the same net flow as a wide and slow-moving one.